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Sometimes it’s easier to see and understand current truths through the lens of history, and that’s one of Mary Queen of Scots’ greatest assets. It’s far from a home run with some major snags including pacing and emotional detachment at the beginning of the movie, but the film still manages to resonate as a story about a woman of great power fighting to lead amongst men.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary Stuart. When Mary does not remarry after the passing of her husband, King Francis II, she leaves France and returns home to Scotland to reclaim the throne. As a devout Catholic, Mary’s homecoming further stirs the hostility between the Catholic and Protestant factions in Scotland, and also ignites a power struggle between Mary and England’s Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), who’s deeply concerned about Mary’s claim to the throne.
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Mary Queen of Scots is largely about Mary Stuart’s journey and, as usual, Ronan is absolutely flawless in the role, but the movie doesn’t really come to life until Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) turns sour, as that specific event adds some especially interesting and dynamic layers to Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t happen until roughly midway through the film. The information conveyed and the experiences shared before that are vital to both Mary and Elizabeth’s arc and what proves to be a very powerful finish, but in the moment, the material paving the way there feels detached and cold. As someone who is not especially well versed in this 16th century royal upheaval, it took me a little longer than I’d like to commit all the main players and their allegiances to memory, and that’s something that kept me from investing and connecting for far too long.
Similarly, along the way, Mary makes a few decisions...
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