Mary Queen of Scots, Palace Nova
(Reviewed by John Glennie)
The story of two cousins, rivals and queens – Queen Mary of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I of England. Though not in the movie, a bit of pre-history: Mary was sent to France at the age of 6 to betroth the Dauphin (French prince) to secure a Catholic alliance against the Protestant English. When the Dauphin died, still in his teens, Mary (aged 18) returned to Scotland to assume her place on the throne.
It became evident from the outset of the movie that Mary (Soairse Ronan – pronounced Sur-Sha – Brooklyn, Hanna) was certainly up against it. She and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (Australia’s Margot Robbie – I Tonya, The Legend of Tarzan), were pawns in a male-dominated chess game. Elizabeth in particular was manipulated from the start to eliminate Mary because she was Catholic and would wreak havoc amongst the now-Protestant realm. Despite Mary announcing that all religions were welcome, she was ostracised by the Protestant priest who was part of her counsel. When he was basically told to like-it-or-lump-it he began preaching to the masses against supporting this Catholic demon. Consequently, Mary was receiving animosity and treachery from both the English and her own Scottish subjects.
She is portrayed as the stronger character of the two queens and a force to be reckoned with. When her half-brother James (James McArdle) vehemently disagrees with one of her decisions he leaves her court but plots, with the English, to overthrow Mary. However, his English-supplied army was no match for Mary’s Scottish regiment so the coup was rapidly thwarted.
Despite trying to avoid conflict, Elizabeth is constantly pressured by the many power-deprived men around her – especially by her principal adviser William Cecil (Guy Pearce – Jack Irish, Genius, Alien: Covenant) – to do something about Mary. When one of her counsellors asks “How did the world come to this?” another responds “Men servicing the whims of women?” – which sums up a lot of the sexist nature of the movie!
The childless Elizabeth is put under more pressure after Mary’s controversial marriage to Henry (Jack Lowden – Dunkirk, England is Mine) which bears a son, James, who becomes the next heir-apparent to the throne. The anti-Mary contingent spread rumours that she has had an affair with her minstrel David Rizzio – who also happens to be Henry’s lover – and Henry is coerced to sign a decree accusing the minstrel of being an adulterer, which leads to the latter’s disturbing demise.
After Mary flees Scotland she has a secret meeting with her cousin which is the first time the two queens have met. Mary pleads for assistance (an army) to overthrow her enemies in Scotland, but to no avail. Elizabeth rightly lament “how cruel men are” as she is subsequently tricked by her counsel and, hands tied, is forced to betray Mary and order the latter’s execution.
The movie is beautifully filmed in the mesmerising, but harsh, Scottish highlands. Some parts dragged a bit and other (to me) key parts of the history seem to be glossed over. The costumes and makeup starkly contrast males – black clothes, rugged features and sinister demeanour – against female – bright, colourful clothes and pale skin. Overall a well-produced and captivating movie but it was probably about 20 minutes too long or they could have used that time to cover more of the history.