The story of Mary, Queen of Scotland, and her sister Elizabeth has been taught in history classes, discussed by historians, and written about in textbooks. Now, it has come to the big screen, bringing with it all of the drama of a true tragedy.
Mary Queen of Scots is a powerful movie that allows one to learn about a crucial series of events in European history while enjoying an excellent presentation. Nearly every aspect of the film was executed flawlessly.
Mary had been a French queen who, upon the death of her husband, returned to her home of Scotland to retake the throne there. Her sister Elizabeth was the queen of England, and she was less than thrilled about her prodigal sister’s return. The two end up feuding, and it eventually causes a civil war to break out. Mary constantly had her back against the wall and was betrayed by everyone, even her husband just a few hours after marrying him.
The plot itself was centered around the proxy war fought by Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) for the right to the English throne. As civil war breaks out, anger and frustration become palpable. For Ronan, this could be an Oscar-winning performance after losing to Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) for Best Actress.
Margot Robbie has a much longer career and is much more established as an actress, but she has received criticism from people who claim she is a poor actor who relies on her beauty to land roles. Mary Queen of Scots dispels this notion. Robbie plays a woman who was stricken with smallpox, and her beauty stops being a factor very quickly.
In addition to excellent acting from the entire cast, the film’s cinematography was spectacular. Josie Rourke, first-time director, used camera angles to present Mary and Elizabeth exactly the way she wanted to. Small details frame the film: Mary was often shown in nature, representing simplicity and natural beauty, while Elizabeth was usually shown surrounded by the English court and massive structures. This created an interesting contrast between the two queens that added to the emotional weight of the film.
The soundtrack was another way Josie Rourke was able to enhance an already great movie. Each note seemed to echo around the landscape on the screen, and it draws viewers in and in some cases, and perfectly mirrors the emotion of scenes.
The most important factor in the overall quality was that every single character, even down to the smallest roles, performed brilliantly. There was not an actor on that set who was holding anyone down—each person elevated the person next to them.
Mary Queen of Scots is an intense movie that follows one of the most politically and culturally important eras in the history of Europe. Every ounce of that intensity is captured and portrayed well by one of the best overall casts in recent memory. From the first scene, in which a burning candle is extinguished and Mary brought to the chopping block, it is filled with passion and truly captures the grandeur of the historical events it is based on. This movie will win awards, probably a lot of them.
Correction, Dec. 3, 6:58 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that actress Margot Robbie portrays Mary Stuart. In fact, Margot Robbie portrays Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart is portrayed by Saoirse Ronan.
Featured Image by Focus Features