Mary Queen of Scots: Period Drama Aces the Details but Offers Scant Sizzle

By Kim Hughes

Rating: B

Exquisitely detailed and beautiful but kind of boring, Mary Queen of Scots boasts impressive historical accuracy, based as it is on John Guy’s scholarly biography, and not the 1971 film with Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson. But that accuracy means the feisty fictional face-to-face sparring match between Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I — which electrifies the trailer and offers the film’s primary sizzle — is necessarily reduced to one scene near the end of a two-hour running time. The road to that place is long indeed.

Margot Robbie as your Queen.

Margot Robbie as your Queen.

Mary Queen of Scots opens in 1587 on Mary’s execution day, then zips back in time before the ax falls. Mary’s life was something: queen of France by marriage at 16 and widowed at 18, she returned to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne while battling sexism, dynastic ambition, political intrigue, religious intolerance, poor heating and plumbing and rib-crunching corsets throughout.

Director Josie Rourke follows the parallel yet very different lives of Mary and Elizabeth I and their coterie of confidantes (and faux-confidantes) with an unhurried lens that invites us to really think about how remarkable these two women were, and the odds they fought every step of the way. But deep thought is rarely visually intriguing. We do, however, get lots of breathy exposition and sweeping-vista shots of the Scottish and English countryside.

Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth offer rich, committed performances and highly passable accents. There’s also a certain thrill in being transported to another very real-feeling world: inside elaborate stone mansions lit only by candles and furnished with stiff but fancy furniture. The costumes, jewelry and makeup, too, are fabulous. But a hard-to-pinpoint pall hangs over Mary Queen of Scots. And did we mention it’s kind of boring?

Mary Queen of Scots. Directed by Josie Rourke. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Opens wide December 14.