31 Days of Film: Mary Queen of Scots
The least interesting movies to write about are the average ones. When a film is absolutely putrid, especially if it’s the specific flavor of putrid of the Michael Bay Transformers films or all the movies Adam Sandler has made to have an excuse to go on paid vacations with his friends. Those movies muster a loathing in my soul that makes the word flow out and it’s very easy to write about what failed in the creation of a movie. It’s equally simple to write about the things the succeeded in a film; thus writing about movies like Roma or Into the Spider-Verse is also easily done. Writing about movies that just slightly missed target are not so much. Mary Queen of Scots is an okay movie that is neither a remarkable triumph nor a loathsome failure; but considering the sheer talent collected on screen maybe just producing an average film is a remarkable failure in itself.
I’ve been saying for the past six months how excited I was for this film. Having never watched the trailer as you know is my want, but I was just excited to see Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie on screen together. I also, I suppose, at some point I got this film mashed together with the upcoming film, Little Women, in my head and I’ve been walking around saying this was going to be directed by Greta Gerwig. Which was a large part of why I was excited for this film. Gerwig teaming up with Ronan again on her sophomore film to tell another personal story of a complex character. It turns out that all remains true we just need to wait until next year for Little Women for that film. And while it is probably unfair to compare Josie Rourke—the actual director of this film—in her directorial debut to one of the most talented young directors working but it is a difficult comparison to avoid, even if unlike myself you actually knew who directed the movie going in. Rourke takes the two exemplary performances of her main stars and strands them—literally—on two separate islands. The film seems to lose focus on an almost minute to minute it was unclear even by the end of the film exactly what story Rourke was interested in telling with Mary Queen of Scots. It felt at times like the film would have had more weight if I had done my homework going in—many of the pivotal moments of the film hinged on the audience having some in depth knowledge of the political strife of 16th century England and Scotland. And I’m sorry to say that it’s been a while since I brushed up on my English renaissance history. Mary Queen of Scots spends too much time on the tired political drama instead of letting its characters develop on screen so that when it arrives at its final climax where its stars finally meet face to face the story has been so slapdash and half-baked up to that point that it undercuts the narrative power of the star’s emotional performances.
There is a lot good with this movie; Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are typically fantastic and when allowed to flex their talents they’re both captivating. Alongside an equally talented supporting cast the acting in Mary Queen of Scots is world class but the stars are ultimately let down by poor directing and a lackluster script. But as an acting masterclass Mary Queen of Scots is up there with some of the best of the year and still worth seeing for fans of Ronan and Robbie.