Based on a true story, they definitely have taken some dramatic liberties in this film. For instance, Mary and Elizabeth never met in real life. Some people cannot accept that film is not history. Nor is it around to teach us history lessons. It is an art form whose primary focus is behaviour and the human condition. So to criticize a film or dismiss it because it takes liberties is silly.
Another thing to be taken into account is that most of what we know about these two women was written by men. So these women being allowed to have sex lives or even real emotions were conveniently eliminated. In other words, the true stories about these women, as famous as they were, were probably never captured. So this is just a possible version of what happened…except for the meeting of the two, which is pure fiction, but provides a tension and dramatic effect for the film.
Two young women who are rulers in Britain are manipulated by their male advisors and as such, instead of working together, they operate in opposition. Mary Stuart is the Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan – Hanna, Brooklyn). A Catholic leader of Scotland in a part of the world where Protestants have most of the power. As an infant, for her own protection she was sent to France. At 15, she marries the heir to the French throne. At 18, she is widowed and returns to Scotland. Mary’s half brother (James McArdle – ’71, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) has been ruling in her absence and Scotland has been taken over by the Protestants. This strong woman is not happy with just being a figurehead either.
Over in England, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wallstreet, I, Tonya) is the Protestant queen. She feels threatened by Mary’s return to claim the throne as Mary by birth has a strong claim to England’s throne. The threat Mary poses is built up by Elizabeth’s advisors, especially William Cecil (Guy Pearce – Memento, Iron Man 3), who continuously lies to her.
The two women, instead of meeting face to face and working together, are driven further and further apart. Pitted against one another for power. Each are forced into difficult choices in such intimate areas such as love and children. So much so that each woman will fall victim to the cost of power.
The 16th century, as most previous and since, was one in which men dominated. The two queens fall prey to manipulation, lies and betrayal by those around them who are supposed to be trusted advisors. Directed by Josie Rourke (first film) with a screenplay by Beau Willimon (writer of multiple episodes of House of Cards), Mary Queen of Scots was based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. Many could not get on board with the director’s social stance (diverse casting, etc.) and the historical liberties. Right off the bat, the film was sunk.
Set up almost like a theatrical production (which makes sense as that is the first time director’s background), this is best viewed as an examination of 16th century politics. Much more open a view of the times than previous films of the same subject. The whole soap opera feeling it has makes the period piece much more difficult for film goers to grasp onto.
Both of the lead actresses do their usual solid jobs here with Ronan having a bigger load to carry. Saoirse Ronan is so passionate and strong in her portrayal of Mary that she just overshadows Margot Robbie in her turn as the leader wracked with doubt. Another excellent performance for Ronan to add to her CV.
-An Epic Confrontation
-Something About Marys
-Feature Commentary with Director Josie Rourke and Composer Max Richter