Review: Mary Queen Of Scots is full of empty pageantry

As contrasting monarchs, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie shout, wear elaborate costumes and bore you to tears

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Josie Rourke). 124 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (December 14). See listing. Rating: NN

There are people who love Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age for their opulence: the costumes, the busy cinematography, the shouting, the Cate Blanchett of it all.

If you loved those films, Mary Queen Of Scots is another one. You don’t get Blanchett, but you do get Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie interpreting historical drama as empty pageantry instead.

Focusing on Mary’s return to Scotland as a teen widow, where her presence threatens Elizabeth’s reign in England, the film drains all energy and feeling from the story, trapping Ronan and Robbie in elaborate costumes (and, in the case of Robbie’s Elizabeth I, increasingly complicated makeup) at the cost of their characters’ inner lives.

They occasionally exchange threatening letters through their envoys, and complain about the slights within. Robbie’s Elizabeth shouts a lot Ronan’s Mary prefers to simmer. David Tennant pops up every so often as a frothing preacher who appears to spend his entire career raging about Mary’s evil ways hey, at least he’s lively.

An acclaimed stage director making her first feature, Josie Rourke’s biggest creative contributions appear to have been swapping out Kapur’s spinning camera for the occasional drone shot and assembling a diverse supporting cast. But mostly she seems content to let the art direction tell the story, just as Kapur did.

Oscar odds

Focus Features is pushing pretty hard for a best picture nomination, and given how lush and expensive this looks, it might happen. Nods for costume design and art direction are more likely, though. And maybe cinematography, though the drone shots are a little jarring for a film set in the 16th century.

This review is part of NOW’s 2018 Holiday Movie Special. Check out more here.


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