Mary Queen of Scots movie review: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie's period drama falls flat in its execution

Mihir Fadnavis

Feb 01, 2019 09:59:07 IST


It has always been postulated that films which are set in the past are made to speak both of the times in which they are made and how history seamlessly repeats itself in the present. Period movies often strive to render expanse to the soul of the story of the film, giving the audience an opportunity to look within in a way that is safer. To that end, Mary Queen of Scots, at the basic level is a good looking film with beautiful period costumes and lavish sets. It is everything you would expect it to be — a well-acted British period piece with a few cracking lines, exuberant attention to visuals, and a presentation of grumbling characters in an uptight royal family.

 Mary Queen of Scots movie review: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbies period drama falls flat in its execution

Margot Robbie in a still from Mary Queen of Scots. Twitter

But, that is about it. And something tells me director Josie Rourke attempted to make a far more incisive film than that.

Ladybird Saoirse Ronan is of course Mary, the 19-year-old girl who arrives in Scotland to claim the throne and her rightful title as the Queen after losing her husband of two years. Naturally, the people around her have no faith in her and are convinced that she would not be able to do a man’s job. Mary, realising the heights of the mountains she needs to climb uses her smarts to deal with centuries long patriarchy, while simultaneously taking on her equal – Queen Elizabeth, played by Margot Robbie in makeup that renders her almost unrecognisable. With the dynamics established that Mary is the younger and clearly more capable one, her cousin Elizabeth needs to deal with the insecurity of this situation and let sparks fly.

The film, on a general level, is a story of schemes and scandals that attempts to trace the complexity of powerful relationships and their many forms, but on an execution level, is a disappointment that plays out in only the most obvious ways. Because the film fictionalises true events, anyone who has seen a couple of costume dramas would be able to figure out reality from souped up fiction, so the skirmish between the warring royal cousins often comes across as a soapy TV show.

There are a couple of bold decisions that the film makes — like having a diverse cast of supporting characters, including Gemma Chan as Mary’s right hand and Ismael Cruz as the gay court musician who later reveals a big mystery. The film does fare a bit better when things get weird, particularly when historical accuracy is thrown out the window, and one wishes the film went all the way in this direction especially because it often treads feminist grounds for the contemporary audiences.

Unfortunately, all the film fully conjures is a focus on conflicts and resolutions that do not fully engage a viewer, and Mary’s journey does not land the emotional punches it often swings at our faces. Dramatising the familial and social complications in costumes is all too cliché at this point, and the straightforward and stale nature of the narrative sells dramatic rewards short. The star power is all present as Robbie acquits herself nicely given Beau Willimon’s (House of Cards) compromised script, and Ronan makes the most of the material, bringing depth to the portrait of a woman written here mostly in two dimensions. And by willing to settle for mere competency instead of exhuming history for deeper insights, the film takes the misstep of leaving audiences with another undemanding Oscar bait placeholder. The only emotion to feel here is that it is not bad, and it is not great; it just exists to be forgotten quickly.

Rating: **

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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 09:59:07 IST