Mary Queen of Scots: Focuses on the Cost of Power
I have an addiction to historical dramas. It's Helena Bonham Carter fault. Lady Jane sent me to the library to find out what was up with British lady monarchs losing their damn heads when they're supposed to be in charge. So, I started eyeing Focus Features's Mary Queen of Scots as soon as production began.
Mary Queen of Scots: A Theme Runs Through It
As directorial debuts go, Josie Rourke couldn't have picked better source material to scratch a feminist itch. For once, a narrative intended to focus on a feminine perspective is a natural fit. Although the contemporary-edge to each monarch's character portrait - these ladies aren't as demure - and dialogue tone will make some to discount everything as fiction.
As all dramatizations tend to do, Mary Queen of Scots takes serious liberties in how it portrays several characters (historians expect your eye to twitch) but I found the subversions purposeful.
Who is Mary Stuart?
Medieval Men Were Trash...but damn.
The story set up, fantastic ensemble performances mesh beautifully with impeccable costuming and production design but Rourke - or perhaps the script - falls short on bringing all these pieces together in a way that maintains the film's emotional impact.
Bad Decisions are Bad
History tends to hint at the taboo rather deal with in a forthright manner. There are times when shifting the lens allows for a more honest history. The secondary story arc involving around Stuart's second husband Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) and her courtier Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) takes innuendo about his sexuality and confronts the rumors head-on.
It's also an excellent way to spotlight Stuart's emotional immaturity and vulnerability without discounting her intelligence. The subplot offers the opportunity to showcase Stuart's ability to outmaneuver her enemies. This fully developed story arc just makes it obvious Rourke could've handled all the plot development far better than it was.
Again, all the set up is brilliant. Robbie's Elizabeth I is uniquely her own. She, more than any other, takes full advantage of sharp exchanges and creates the image of a Queen dedicated to her path regardless of the sacrifices. The by-play between Robbie and Pearce are some of the best to be had in the entire film. But, again it's easy to check out on some of the finer plot points because they are under development. For a story squarely building to a meeting between Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, it all lacks intensity.
Mary Queen of Scots is built on betrayal, rivalry, and fucked up conspiracies. The sublime performances by Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan elevate scenes that could otherwise feel like mere "agenda-service."
It addresses the bitter costs of ruling in the time of rabid patriarchy in a setting so rich and vibrant it has no choice but to be a compelling backdrop for Robbie and Ronan at every turn. It's an interesting juxtaposition of two queens in their bid to retain power.
The pacing and narrative too often sacrifice overall plot development in favor of lingering on emotional motivations. Rourke pushes hard to create a new lens through which to interpret "known" history which ends up undermining potential buy-in overall. This movie is beautiful and I enjoyed it for what it got right cinematically. But I really wish it stayed a more focused and dynamic story throughout because it could've been brilliant.
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