Movie Review: ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’

John Thomas

The tempestuous life of Mary Stewart (Saoirse Ronan) begins in Linlithgow, Scotland in  December of 1542. It was to be a challenging, tortuous and sad life only endured by a person of iron will, determination and staggering intestinal fortitude. So infamous was her life that it became the subject for writers, composers and artists. Mary Queen of Scots by Director Josie Rourke and author John Guy is the most recent telling of this sad yet compelling tale.

Six days after her birth, Mary’s father dies. Being the only legitimate child of King James V, the young infant is moved to France for her safety, upbringing and education. She reaches adulthood and marries the Dauphin of France, becoming his Queen Consort. That doesn’t last very long as her husband soon dies. The widow Mary returns to Scotland in 1561 with the plan of ruling her country and England as well. Her first cousin, Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie) is the reigning monarch – whom Mary plots to overthrow.

There is a lot of intrigue taking place in both the Scottish and English courts – Lord this is plotting that, the Earl of something is planning to eliminate someone. Both monarchs are aware of these intrigues and support them – even to the point of condoning murder and declaring war. There is one event, however,  that could decide who will rule the two realms, and that is the birth of an heir. Queen Elizabeth confesses to one of her councilors that she feels more like a man than a woman. She is clearly out of the running in the baby department.

That leaves Mary to do the deed – which she pursues with her usual determination and drive. Her new husband is of noble birth but not that interested in sex – at least with a woman. He does fulfill her demands and some months later a son is born who is named James after Mary’s half brother and various other monarchs of Scotland. With the heir issue out of the way, Mary now faces the challenge of her religious beliefs – she’s Catholic and most of her subjects are not. Not only is Mary’s life at stake but that of her son as well. The small boy is whisked away from his mother to be raised by his uncle. The uncle acquiesces to the Queen’s demand that the “future” King James be prepared to rule both Scotland and England – when the need eventually arises.

This famed story has appeared in plays, opera, music and films from as early as the mid 19th century. Victor Hugo wrote Marie Tudor in 1833, Martha Graham choreographed a dance using the subject in 1985. Luigi Carlini wrote the opera Maria Stuarda in 1818, Richard Wagner composed Adieu de Marie Stuart 1840. Mary’s story first appeared on film in the movie Execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1895. Kathryn Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Elizabeth Taylor have all played her, but have any of these productions and performances been better than this, the newest 2018 version? It remains for the audience to decide.

Directed by Josie Rourke with credits for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Vote (theater productions), this is a “must see” movie that runs 124 minutes.


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