Saoirse Ronan Plays Beleaguered Monarch in Costume Drama
THE THRONE IS MINE: After spending most of her childhood exiled in France, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) returns to Scotland to claim her rightful place as heir to the throne of England. Queen Elizabeth I has other ideas in the costume drama “Mary Queen of Scots.”
By Kam Williams
Mary Stuart (1542-1587) is a tragic figure whose life story does not naturally lend itself to the big screen. After all, despite being King James V’s only legitimate offspring at the time of his death, she spent most of her childhood exiled in France and over 18 years of her adulthood imprisoned in England before being beheaded at the behest of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
But that hasn’t discouraged filmmakers from periodically taking liberties with the facts in order to mount an entertaining, if fanciful, biopic about the ill-fated aristocrat. Katharine Hepburn played Mary in a 1936 version directed by John Ford, while Vanessa Redgrave landed an Academy Award nomination for her rendition in a 1971 remake which netted a half-dozen Oscar nominations.
Now, Saoirse Ronan stars as the beleaguered queen in a visually-captivating costume drama marking the directorial debut of Josie Rourke. The movie is based on John A. Guy’s 2004 biography, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, though the production seems less concerned with historical accuracy than with flamboyant hair and makeup.
You can forget about the book’s assertion about being “true.” For example, Mary and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) never met in real life, yet this picture’s climax revolves around their meeting for a face-to-face showdown fabricated for dramatic effect. Equally disconcerting is that the film hypes female solidarity as a hot button issue, a glaring reminder of how a movie often tells you more about the period in which it was made than the one it is supposedly about.
Even if you’re inclined to forgive all of the above, perhaps the picture’s most annoying flaw is that it opens with the heroine’s execution, and is then followed by a series of flashbacks leading back to Mary’s demise. Why spoil the ending by assuming everyone in your audience is a history buff who knows how the story’s going to turn out?
An anti-climactic overindulgence in pomp and pageantry designed for fans of British royalty.
Fair (*). Rated R for violence and sexuality. Running time: 124 minutes. Production Companies: Focus Features/Working Title Films/Perfect World Pictures. Studio: Focus Features.