First Hit: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.
Mary, by lineage, had rights to the throne of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales but her upbringing in France, that she was Catholic, and that her cousin Elizabeth also had throne rights to England, Wales, and Ireland, caused her to fight to claim her sovereignty.
At six days old, Mary was enthroned as Scotland’s ruler. However, Mary was raised in France and as a Catholic. Because England had long since rooted out Catholicism and the control of the Vatican over their nation, this Protestant nation was at odds with Mary claiming England’s throne while being Catholic.
After Mary lost her first husband in France, Mary came to Scotland to rule her country. She longed and aspired to rule England as well under a single throne. Although popular with her subjects, often because of her religious tolerance, she was manipulated by her supporting cast and therefore struggled to rule effectively over men, the lords of her land.
Mary realized that if she got pregnant and Elizabeth didn’t, her child would be heir to the throne of both English the territories and Scotland. Mary took on her second husband who did impregnate her although he wasn’t attracted to women and preferred one of Mary’s gay servants. Elizabeth didn’t have any desire to have children although her court tried and begged her to wed and have a child. She didn’t want men to have power over her and that meant in the bedroom as well.
Both queens were reviled by the men in their court. Elizabeth dealt with this prejudice in ways that allowed her to be less affected by this sexism.
Mary’s behavior, intelligence, and open heart allowed her to be threatened by her advisory court and therefore a coup took place. She was driven to England as Elizabeth told Mary she’d be safe in there. Her son James VI, however, was left in Scotland and eventually after Elizabeth’s death became ruler of England and Scotland.
Elizabeth suffered from smallpox and the makeup effectively portrayed how badly this affected her facial features. In the film Elizabeth sometimes wore white pancake powder to cover the scars on her face.
After escaping Scotland, without child, Mary was imprisoned for some eighteen years prior to Elizabeth having her killed.
The film begins with Mary being walked to her beheading and then ends with her beheading.
Because this was the 16th Century most of the film has a darkness to it. Fires in fireplaces and candles were the only light in the dank stone castles. However, Mary’s fire red hair along with the very stylistic hair designs brought powerful color to the screen as did Elizabeth’s wig and makeup.
Ronan is amazing. As probably one of the greatest young actors of our time, this film is yet another powerful entry in her resume. Robbie is fantastic as the strong thoughtful Elizabeth. Although there are a host of other actors in this film, they are minor characters to the power brought forth by these two women. Beau Williams wrote a strong screenplay that highlighted the differences between these two powerful women. Josie Rourke did an excellent job of showing the difficulties women in the throne faced by men who believed they knew better.
Overall: The film is lifted by the superb acting from Ronan and Robbie.