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“Mary Queen of Scots” can’t live up to its royal lineage

It’s never fair for one film to be compared to another. They weren’t made to be in direct competition with each other. Still, sometimes it’s just apt. The worst thing that could have happened to Mary Queen of Scots was how fresh and unique The Favourite ended up being. This period piece just can’t match up, coming hot on the heels of that one. Regardless of the comparison, it falls short of its intended goals, despite a powerhouse one two punch of Margot Robbie and especially Saorise Ronan. Considering the potential here, it’s certainly a disappointment. Ronan does her best, but she can’t save the day.

The film is a biographical drama, centering on Mary Stuart (Ronan) and her relationship with cousin Elizabeth I (Robbie), the Queen of England. Mainly a biopic of Mary, it follows her as she becomes the Queen of France at 16, ends up a widow at 18, and chafes against the pressure to marry again. Instead, as the film begins, she returns to Scotland, her homeland, to attempt to reclaim her rightful place at the throne. At the time, however, Scotland is under England rule, where Elizabeth I is the law. Both Mary and Elizabeth have a complicated relationship with each other considering the other one to be a “sister”. At the same time, they’re clearly rivals. Being as they’re in a male dominated world, each goes about coalescing power in different ways. When Mary opts to make a claim to the throne, it sets into motion decisions by Elizabeth that will change the course of European history. It all sounds potentially interesting, but sadly it never comes together. Josie Rourke directs an adaptation by Beau Willimon, while supporting players here include Joe Alwyn, Simon Russell Beale, Gemma Chan, Adrian Derrick-Palmer, Adrian Lester, Guy Pearce, Thom Petty, David Tennant, and many more. John Mathieson handles the cinematography, while the score comes from Max Richter.

I found this movie to be a real slog, which gives me no pleasure to say. Ronan is excellent and the costumes are lovely, but that’s just not enough. You find yourself wanting a whole lot more. Robbie is hit or miss in her part, but points for trying to give the well known role a new spin. Honestly, there’s just not enough forward momentum. Too often, the flick comes to a screeching halt for one reason or another. Rourke certainly showcases some filmmaking chops, so her next outing could be a tremendous one. This debut just isn’t one that I was able to embrace.

Awards wise, The Favourite could very well suck up all the air in the rooms that Mary Queen of Scots would hope to otherwise contend in. Still, Focus Features has a campaign going, including shots at Best Picture, Best Director (for Rourke), Best Actress (for Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (for Robbie), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Willimon), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and Best Original Score. Above the line nods might be hard to come by, but below the line there are opportunities. A nom in Costume Design wouldn’t be surprising, nor would be one in Makeup & Hairstyling.

If you’re a huge Ronan fan, that might be enough to make Mary Queen of Scots a worthwhile experience for you. If you’re like me, however, you’ll just be left wanting more. That dissatisfaction is really what put a bad taste in my mouth. A traditional and bland biopic in an era where that is becoming a relic, it never is able to distinguish itself. Give it a look and see for yourself, but it won’t be getting a recommendation from me. Feel free to make up your own mind though, as it could instead work wonders on you. It just didn’t for yours truly.

Mary Queen of Scots hits theaters this weekend!

*Photos courtesy of Focus Features*

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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