There’s little love in “Mary Queen of Scots.”
Instead, the sprawling drama suggests politics factored into just about everything, including romance.
Sparking this? Mary’s complicated relationship with Queen Elizabeth.
Both looking to grow their kingdoms, they see marriage as a way to solidify their positions. While the two speak only in letters, they’re keenly aware of each other.
In director Josie Rourke’s screen version, they’re constantly plotting, always looking for an edge.
Saoirse Ronan plays Mary, a headstrong woman who doesn’t realize some of he biggest enemies are lurking in the same castle. Margot Robbie is Elizabeth, a disease-ridden monarch who fears she won’t have an heir and, in turn, complete power.
Both use men to learn the other’s secrets. Both try to arrange marriages. When Mary becomes pregnant, she appears to have the upper hand.
Ah, but those in her court aren’t exactly smitten with the arrangement. They plot, too, and figure distractions can be bad for everyone.
While Rourke relishes lavish landscape shots and mesmerizing costuming, she’s less discriminating about the facts. This “Mary Queen of Scots” plays with plenty – including a meeting between the two women – and embraces color-blind casting.
Great actors (like Adrian Lester and Guy Pearce) give the story intrigue, but they can’t hide the lack of subplot. Considering it’s more than two hours, “Mary Queen of Scots” should have had more than a one-track mind.
Ronan is a fascinating lead, more than up to the challenge. She confronts her half-brother, setting into motion more machinations.
Rourke, though, keeps the focus tight, failing to show more than large groupings of detractors.
In England, Robbie’s Elizabeth is similarly isolated. Unlike “The Favourite,” which expanded the court in such a tasty way, “Mary Queen of Scots” makes the war a two-women battle.
Robbie does better than you’d think in a role that could have been meaty for many actresses. She relies on makeup and costuming to help her maneuver through the quagmire, limiting her big “moment” to that fictitious meeting between Elizabeth and Mary.
Because this rivalry has fueled numerous films and television series, it’s amazing more wasn’t done with what has already been revealed.
Rourke doesn’t borrow from others. “Mary Queen of Scots” should have.
The film looks great and has fine people in play. Often, though, it’s more enamored with sweeping cinematography than gritty storytelling. If a film is long, there should be a reason.