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Mary Queen of Scots

February 2, 2019

Mary Queen of Scots (2019)
Director: Josie Rourke
Actors: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, James McArdle

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Synopsis: The years from Mary Stuart’s return to Scotland to claim her position as Queen of Scotland, to her subsequent imprisonment and death for allegedly conspiring against Queen Elizabeth I.

Review: Mary Queen of Scots doesn’t exactly do anything heinously wrong in its treatment of its Mary Queen of Scots-Queen Elizabeth rivalry, but it finds no real means to elevate its story beyond the perfunctory, nor to distinguish it from the dozens of period/royal/Tudor age movies that have come before.

If you’ve seen previous portentous historical dramas à la The Other Boleyn GirlElizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, to name but a few, then you can guess Mary Queen of Scots‘ hackneyed grammar. There’s the suspiciously twee arrival of royal parties on tiny wooden boats into remote, idyllic beaches; there’s the continual communication of the conspiratorial in parties of noblemen marching nefariously through royal courts; and then there’s the risible cross-country horse ride, embarked upon by a queen in immaculate dress, across breathtaking sweeps of Scottish landscape.

Josie Rourke’s direction and overall vision for the film lacks any real cinematic sense. It’s stylistically rote as mentioned previously, but it’s also a structural dead-weight – the story moves along monotonously and it relies very much on its musical score to give it what emotional context it can.

Finally, it might seem like an incidental comment, but the moment I saw that Margot Robbie was sporting a prosthetic nose (such as Nicole Kidman in The Hours and Steve Carell in Foxcatcher) my bullsh*t sensor lit up. It’s usually a sign that the production’s focus is in the wrong place. It’s suggestive of a reliance on the lure of the star system and a playing on the audience inclination to want to fawn at obfuscatory performance conceits. Quite why Margot Robbie couldn’t have been allowed to perform with her own nose (we know it’s not actually Queen Elizabeth after all, but someone playing her), and perhaps Rourke and co might have been advised to do a better job of polishing Robbie’s weak, clichéd flattening of her vowels as non-Brit attempt at appropriating English RP. (February 2019)

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