Mary Queen of Scots – Dramatic Feud of Historical Inaccuracies

Highland accents, strong female leads, the most anti-climactic battle since Gary King Vs. the Network (The Worlds end) and inexcusable inaccuracies. Catholics and Protestants, Men being Gillet’s target market, Josie Rourke’s directorial debut has it all.

Mary Queen of Scots, if the title does not give it away, is in some parts a step-by-step run through of Mary Stuarts return to the Scottish throne in the mid-1500s paired with her interesting relationship with the queen of Scotland’s oldest rival, Elizabeth I of England.

The main cast looks phenomenal. With Saoirse Ronan starring as the title character (That’s Mary in case you forgot) and Margot Robbie as her co-star and co-rival, Elizabeth I. Supported by an all-star cast including, but certainly not limited to Adrian Lester, Ian Hart, everyone’s favourite doctor David Tennant, and many, many more.

Ronan’s performance of Mary was true to form. Despite being born in New York City, the Scottish accent slipped almost naturally from her lips. I, to be fair, was sceptical at first. I have always doubted Hollywood actors’ abilities to play Scottish characters – here’s looking at Tom Hanks in Cloud Atlas. Lest we forget. However, this brings me to my first issue with the accuracy of the film. As great as it was, Mary, the real Mary, did not have a Scottish accent. Being raised in France for the majority of her formative years, it goes without saying that she would not have developed the twang of the Scots. She spoke a lot in French, wrote in French, hell she probably even thought about her tea in French.

All accents aside, the highlight of Ronan’s portrayal shone its strongest through her ability to act without even saying a word. For example, we first meet Mary at the end of her Journey, which is okay because it’s a historical Drama we already know the ending. She is being put to death by Queen Elizbeth for reasons that will undoubtedly become apparent throughout the movie. From the outset, the way Ronan holds herself, it was clear to see that Ronan possess the strong spirit and determined action of Mary herself.

The film is fraught with inaccuracies. It’s a given that historical dramas do not need to be 100% accurate, however, there is a line. A line that Josie Rourke’s Mary, Queen of Scots has not just crossed, but leapt over.  Now, let’s not get this twisted. Mary Queen of Scots is not a bad movie. In fact, once the horrible historical inaccuracies and poor casting choices are overlooked, it’s not impossible to enjoy it at face value – as a drama set in the mid-to-late sixteenth century. But as a story about two infamous monarchies of the British Isle’s, it’s a no from me.

My biggest issue was with the casting of one particular character – Thomas Randolph. For those whom may have forgotten (it’s a big cast) Randolph was the English ambassador to Elizabeth I. Historically he spent most of his in the Court of Mary, which the film got correct. The biggest inaccuracy here? His casting. Now, I understand that I am treading on dangerous ground here. For the record, Adrian Lester did a superb job, as always (if we forget about Doomsday). Much like many in the historic English court, the characters were white. I totally understand the idea Rourke was pursuing with Mary, Queen of Scots, but I think, especially paired with the other glaring inaccuracies, is a bit silly.

However, although Saoirse Ronan did a superb job, Margot Robbie was arguably on top of her game here. Her portrayal of a world-weary monarch surrounded by enemies is top notch. From the delivery of her dialogue to how over-dramatic (but not too dramatic) break-down in the arms of her lover, Robert Dudley played by Joe Alwyn. On a side note, I could not decide whether it was strange of smart to have Alwyn playing pretty much the same role in this movie as he did in the Favourite. The two historical dramas being released with a week-or-so between them, I guess it kept him in character.

There is a reason that Mary, Queen of Scots has been nominated for an Academy Award for its hair and make-up. To turn Margot Robbie from, well, Margot Robbie into the damaged, small-pocks ridden woman Elizabeth I was must have been no small undertaking. By the end of the film, I barely recognised her as the Margot Robbie that men obsessed over in The Wolf of Wall Street.

From a cinematography perspective, it was respectable. There’s not a lot that can go wrong when capturing the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands, but one scene really stood out for me. Mary and Lord Darnley, played by our favourite World War two pilot Jack Lowden, had ridden off ahead like the young lovers we (thought) they were. The camera pans out to a magnificent wide shot of the mountains and valleys around them. Darnley rightly asked The Queen how it “felt to rule all she sees.” Probably marvellous.  

Overall, the movie was enjoyable. If I were paying to see it, I may have been a little let down and mislead. It redeems itself through an all-star cast that performed well, brilliant cinematography and aesthetics.

By Alexander John Udraufksi-Osborne

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