Mary Queen of Scots: Movie Review

Mary Queen of Scots is a historic film which came out in 2018 directed by Josie Rourke about Queen Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) who became Queen of the Scots in 1561. She was a Catholic, she found herself ruling over a mostly Protestant population, and she also had to face the hostility of her cousin, and Queen of England, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie).

The film mainly shows the story of Mary with her difficult relationships with her stepbrother the Earl of Moray (James McArdle) and with the two husbands she had in Scotland, Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) and Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston). The story also devotes a lot of time to Elizabeth in a movie that shows the power of two women in a world where men decided everything. In fact, the crucial scene of the film is the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, with the two leading actresses offering very convincing performances.

The relationship between the two, which develops mostly at a distance, is very complex and ranges from respect to fear and open hostility, also passing through family love. But if the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is certainly the strong point of the film (think of the scene of the parallel between the two after Mary’s giving birth), unfortunately there are many other things that don’t work, starting from the plot, which is more complicated than necessary and excessively fragmented.

There are many characters which feel underdeveloped, so much so that their actions aren’t well explained nor motivated, above all the English ambassador to Scotland (Adrian Lester) and the preacher John Knox (David Tennant). It would have been better to simplify the narrative and develop more some of the supporting actors with key roles.

But the thing that I liked the least is the evident historical inaccuracy, evident from the very first scenes. What’s the point of having an African American interpret the English ambassador to Scotland in 1500? And why having the character of the Italian Rizzio interpreted by a Puerto Rican actor (Ismael Cruz Cordova)? And the noble Bess of Hardwick by an actress of Chinese origin (Gemma Chan)? These are not small details by any means, and they distracted me a lot right from the start! Why perfectly reconstructing the death of Rizzio, for example, when it has zero credibility due to the actors portraying the characters on screen in a theoretically historical film?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to criticize whitewashing, that is, the use of Caucasian actors to play characters of different ethnic backgrounds. But I also criticize this senseless multietnic-washing, which is in fact called blind casting! Faced with that, the debate on whether or not the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth actually took place seems to me of lesser importance in a film in which the majority of the scenes have no historical credibility whatsoever.

In short, it’s not that Mary Queen of Scots is a bad film, but I only managed to take it seriously partially and I found the narrative cumbersome. That said, Ronan worked great, and so did Margot Robbie, albeit under heavy makeup (she looks like Tim Burton’s Queen of Hearts at times). Even the costumes and sets are very well-crafted, which makes the absurd casting choices mentioned above even less understandable for me. Ciao!

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