The stakes are raised for new releases with each passing day, it’s the cruel and unapologetic reality of Oscar season. And that means if a movie isn’t viewed as “good enough” to stir the pot amongst early frontrunning favorites, then it often falls by the wayside and quickly becomes a forgotten memory. Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s bound to happen with Josie Rourke’s finely crafted period-piece drama, Mary Queen of Scots.
In the late 1500s Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), the rightful heir to the throne, travels back home to Scotland after the death of her husband, the King of France. Meanwhile, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) has ruled over England in her absence and is shocked to learn of Mary’s return. A struggle for absolute power inevitably emerges between these two women and the men closest to them as the fate of England, Scotland and the entire world rests on their shoulders.
Mary Queen of Scots superbly captures the cutthroat underworld of royal monarchy with a stark mirroring of contemporary issues regarding the quest for women’s equality in the workplace. We’re thrust into a world of power, privilege and duty where cunning backstabbing becomes the norm in climbing the ladder of succession. And as a film that checks-off many of the once important key Oscar boxes (biographical period piece, check … star-studded cast, check … compelling story, check …), Mary Queen of Scots has somehow faded from the awards season discussion completely. This surprising absence cannot be blamed on the film’s central performances. In fact, two of the five Best Actress Nominees from last year devour the screen time, and they do so with brilliance. Saoirse Ronan’s stern and fearless demeanor builds with every scene, while Margot Robbie’s psychologically unstable and almost paranoid character is magnificently delivered. Both women deserve higher praises than they’ve been given, but that isn’t meant to overshadow James McArdle’s eye-opening supporting turn as Mary’s half-brother, James. Admittedly, I’m no historical expert on this time period, but I would believe that Josie Rourke’s interpretation of what transpired would cause much debate among scholars. But still, adequate pacing and a gripping historical tale make Mary Queen of Scots a well-acted and worthwhile addition to 2018’s crop of films.