Mary Queen Of Scots: Game of thrones, the British way

Deepa Gahlot
Friday, 1 February 2019

Director: Josie Rourke
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant and others
Rating: * * *

History, intrigue, powerful women, fabulous costumes and splendid production design — even those who could not care less about ancient British history, could sit through this lush period drama.

Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson played Mary Stewart and her cousin Elizabeth in the 1971 film about the two cousins, both claimants to the throne, and the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that went alongside their bitter rivalry; in 2007 Cate Blanchett and Samantha Morton played Elizabeth and Mary in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age. These are just two of the many featuring these two strong women in a pre-feminist age. In the new film, directed by Josie Rourke, attractive and talented young actresses Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie reprise the roles that must have been coveted by many — just to wear those costumes and speak those dramatic lines is great awards bait.

Mary returns to Scotland after the death of her French husband and becomes a threat to the throne of Elizabeth, Queen of England. In contrast to Mary is the buttoned up Elizabeth, known as The Virgin Queen, because she did not marry, and acquired the ruthlessness of a man in that world where women were treated as secondary to men. No fiction writer could have imagined the twists and turns in the Game Of Thrones-like story.

The lives of these two formidable women have fuelled many books, plays and movies; the screenplay for this film was adapted from British historian John Guy’s Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, by Beau Willimon, creator of House of Cards, a show packed with political skullduggery; so this one must have been just up his alley.

Back then, for women to hold on to power while surrounded by ambitious men and constant threats of betrayal, required courage, intelligence, foresight and superhuman will.

There is an element of theatricality to the proceedings — and the director has her roots in theatre — but she has made the film look visually grand, not just the sets of palaces but also the breathtaking Scottish landscapes. The supporting cast has marvellous actors like James McArdle, David Tennant and Guy Pearce, Adrian Lester, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Jack Lowden, who fit right into the period setting and play the men that circle around the two women with varying degrees of menace.

The plot gets a bit dense, and some historical liberties are taken (the two queens never actually met), but the film is worth watching for a glimpse of the chess-moves of power play.

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