A film which never manages to be the sum of its parts, Mary Queen Of Scots works as a character study of Saoirse Ronan‘s legendary Queen, but it fails to gain traction in order to set-up any true cinematic thrills. Ronan delivers in spades as the Scottish monarch, but the rest of the film fails to come alive. Josie Rourke’s political period pic is far from bad and it does have some stirring visuals, however it feels like a play adapted for the screen, or a film stuck with a rather limited budget despite its lofty aims.
Writer Beau Willimon knows political intrigue well having written the stage play Farragut North (and also its film version Ides Of March) as well as Netflix’s House Of Cards, but those were contemporary stories and his style of plotting and characterisation doesn’t feel at home in the film’s 16 Century setting. There’s just too much back and forth, cutting through a lot of space, time and characters in a relatively short two hour running time. Mary Queen of Scots needed room for expansion and it feels like an abbreviated version of a much larger piece – like a TV mini-series cut down to feature length, or a larger movie with its scope removed.
The acting is impressive, with Saoirse Ronan being the stand-out. The Irish actress is one of the finest female actors of her (and any other) generation and she knows how to craft a performance with depth and complexity (while also delivering a great Scottish accent). She holds the screen well and the film suffers when she’s out of the limelight. Margot Robbie makes for a good foil and she works hard with what she has been given, however the Rourke and Willimon never fully decide if they want her to be the film’s villain or a someone who is torn by duty to her own crown. The film ends up coming down in a no-(wo)mans land, leaving Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth astray in a sea of wigs and make-up. A shame because this could have been one hell of a great role for the Australian actress and as it is, she simply can’t compete with Ronan’s feisty fire.
No disaster, but hardly a well-honed classic. Like its main characters, Mary Queen Of Scots is a film with noble aims, but sadly a combination of factors mean that it’s just yet another period drama, rather than a genre standout. Braveheart it ain’t.
Mary Queen of Scots is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download