“Mary Queen of Scots” has all the elements in play to be a juicy bit of Elizabethan melodrama – with two of Hollywood’s brightest young actresses going head-to-head in an intriguing tale of political struggle.
And while Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie both bring the goods, “Scots” underwhelms slightly – a beautiful film that works, yet feels like it should have been better. “Scots” won’t disappoint those who seek it out, but in a crowded end-of-year market it’s not exactly one that people will be disappointed if they miss either.
“Scots” is based on the true story of the power struggle between Mary Stuart (Ronan), who attempted to stake her claim to the English throne as successor to Queen Elizabeth (Robbie).
Mary Stuart’s quest isn’t without opposition – sometimes from people within her circle. Religion – she’s Catholic, while Elizabeth is Protestant – plays a big factor, but other obstacles stand in the way including some who desire that the recently widowed Stuart re-wed.
As Stuart’s claim strengthens, Elizabeth fights to keep her power – even as she fights health issues and power struggles within her circle.
The screenplay was written by “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon, who brings the same back-room political jostling to this that he did to the popular Netflix series.
Director Josie Rourke has crafted a beautiful film that makes use of the vast landscapes and fantastic costumes to create a visually appealing experience.
Ronan brings a fierceness to her role that we haven’t always seen in other performances in her resume. It’s a welcome sight to see Ronan expand her range with mostly positive results.
Robbie doesn’t get to have as many meaty moments as Ronan, at times an afterthought in the story, but she makes the most of her screen time.
The problem with “Scots” is that the expected showdown between these two actresses takes nearly the entire movie to materialize – with their stories happening in separate countries for most of the film. When that showdown finally comes, it is a bit of a letdown – with the expected fireworks more like a fizzle than an actual explosion.
It’s the perfect microcosm for the entire film. Sure “Mary Queen of Scots” works in the moment, but it’s not exactly something that will stay with you once you leave the theater.