Review: Mary Queen of Scots

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: Mary Stuart, the young widowed Queen of Scots, returns to claim her throne in Scotland. Currently under the rule of England’s Queen Elizabeth, Mary finds herself at odds with all of those around her as her quest ultimately leads to war and imprisonment.

REVIEW: There is something very satisfying in watching two talents like Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie both headline an epic historical drama. The two offer a compelling reason to watch the lush and impressive MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. This visually grand feature, directed by Josie Rourke, is gorgeously shot and executed with the help of cinematographer John Mathieson. It also offers some of the most detailed period make-up and costume design you are likely to see this year. While the biographical tale has moments of wondrous beauty, the script sometimes fails to ignite the fiery passion that the two leads deliver with their performances. This is a bit of shame because this story certainly is a fierce and thought provoking one about a rivalry that places two countries at odds with each other.

As Queen of Scotland, a young widowed Mary Stuart (Ronan) decides to return to take her throne. This sets off a complex communication between her and Queen Elizabeth (Robbie) who currently rules over both England and Scotland. However, Elizabeth is barren and cannot conceive an heir, while her counterpart, Queen Mary, is young and able to have children. This relationship between the two women is a complicated one, it twists from a form of sisterhood and friendship to a deep rooted jealousy and back again. As Queen Mary gains power, she finds herself a husband of her choosing (Joe Alwyn) and begins to seek the English throne setting off a deep rooted power struggle between the two rivals.

mary queen of scots saoirse ronan margot robbie joe alwyn josie rourke historical drama period piece queen elizabethWhen it comes to historical dramas, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is one that is certainly worthwhile. It is a rich and impressive world that filmmaker Josie Rourke builds. And while the script by Beau Williamon isn’t reinventing the wheel in any way, shape or form, it makes for an intriguing study of two powerful women. It is at times an intriguing telling of two characters, both are full of ambition, yet stifled by those around them. While all this is true, at times this majestic story falls flat and feels a bit stifled and safe. Thankfully, it still allows some noteworthy performances from the two leads, as well as the supporting cast.

Saoirse Ronan is a perfect choice to take on Queen Mary. The young actress is quite impressive as a Queen looking to take back her throne. She has the ability to show weakness and strength at the same time, yet she is fierce in her passion. This means she must suffer in silence, without revealing her fears to the men surrounding her. When Mary takes on a handsome suitor named Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), she stands by her decision, even after she realizes he has a few not quite so hidden sexual desires. The relationship between the two, much like the rest of the film, is not so terribly simple.

mary queen of scots saoirse ronan margot robbie joe alwyn josie rourke historical drama period piece joblo.comPerhaps the strongest performance in the film is from Margot Robbie. While she is given less screen time than Ronan, the actress gives a very layered performance as a Queen that must make a difficult choice. The jealousy and rage she has for Mary is conflicted with her respect and desire for someone that she can share a sisterly bond with. If it had not been for Robbie – or for that matter Ronan – this may not have had the impact that it does. As beautiful as the film may be, you could not have found two more capable actors to take it on. As well, Joe Alwyn, Jack Lowden and the rest of the cast do offer solid support. And considering Alwyn is also terrific in THE FAVOURITE, it seems the actor is right at home in a period piece such as this.

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS works on two very important levels. The leads are inspired casting, and the direction and look of the film are at times quite spellbinding. The scene where the two women finally meet face to face is a beautiful sequence – even if it seems a bit contrived. The story itself is well told for the most part, yet it tends to drags the dramatic tension down slightly. That is not to say that this isn’t a well made film in any way, it just isn’t quite as adventerous and inspired as it could have been if it had taken a few more chances. Yet, ultimately, you cannot deny the power of what both Ronan and Robbie bring to this elaborate and visually operatic drama.


Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating


About the Author

3120 Articles Published

JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.