Mary Queen of Scots

Tom’s Rating: 4/10 – Lucy’s Rating: 5/10.

It’s taken me a while to get round to writing this (short) review, in part because Mary Queen of Scots was a fairly underwhelming affair. I’ll admit I could have gone in knowing more about this era of British history. Even so, the film lacked coherence, jumped between events in unclear ways, and left me more than a little confused. With such a stellar cast, I had hoped for a lot more.

Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan were both reasonably convincing in their roles as two rival queens contesting the future of the English throne. The scripting, however, thoroughly let them down. When the two finally meet, for instance, the dialogue and direction is frustratingly confused - much more could have been made of this climactic moment, but instead the two end up chasing each other’s silhouettes around conveniently hung bedsheets. The next thing we know, the story has jumped forward twenty years and the credits (among other things) are rolling. The tension that the film tries to build never really peaks. Instead, it just sort of deflates.

The film, more generally, lacked helpful historical signposts. I admit that my historical ignorance played a role here. I spent the first half of the film confusing Mary Queen of Scots with Bloody Mary (oops), but the film did little to guide the (naive) viewer through what is an admittedly confusing part of English monarchical history. The various blood ties, kinship and regal claims were hard to grasp and poorly explained. On top of this, the film jumps relatively brutally between different key events leaving the stumbling to keep up. The plot was so patchwork that my focus on the two warring queens was ultimately lost to updating my mindmap of the Tudor and Stuart family trees.

Even if I had been more informed, the scripting was so stilted, and the direction unclear, that I’m not sure I would have viewed it much more favourably. The film just never had that narrative pull that draws you through the story. At times, Mary Queen of Scots felt caught between blockbuster-title and arthouse nuance that it achieved neither.

Thomas Robinson
Thomas Robinson
Assistant Professor in Quantitative Comparative Politics

I am a political scientist studying representation, experimental methods and computational social science.