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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
It's Not Easy Being Queen
by Betty Jo Tucker

One beautiful scene in Mary Queen of Scots makes this film worth watching. So be patient, dear reader. It comes close to the end of a dreary tale about two Queens who seem like pawns for the men surrounding them. These men don’t like the idea of a woman ruling a kingdom – no matter what side they’re on. So be prepared to see manipulation and betrayal in full swing. Saoirse Ronan portrays the title role, and Margot Robbie plays the English Queen, Elizabeth I.

Both actresses settle into their parts and command the screen whenever the camera focuses on them. But they only share one scene together – and that’s the beautiful one I mentioned above. (It’s probably a situation included by dramatic license). In a secret meeting between the two women, they walk through a room of white billowing curtains as they talk without seeing each other. Mary needs protection. Will Elizabeth help her?

You don’t need to be a History major to know the answer to that question. In fact, the opening shot in the movie reveals the way things end for Mary, who faces her death in vibrant red, the color symbolizing martyrdom.

It’s easy to empathize with 18-year-old Catholic Mary because of the problems she faced returning to Scotland after living in France since she was 5 years old. Regents have been running the country, and her half-brother doesn’t seem too enthused by her return. In addition, John Knox (David Tennant) has been busy converting the Scots while calling Mary a “Papist whore” -- even though the intelligent young Queen favors religious tolerance.  Mary’s two marriages also lead to more problems. (But she becomes mother to a son who will become a King of England.)  

Two cousin Queens vie over throne.

Followers won’t leave them alone.

Protestants and Catholics clash.

Tempers flare and weapons flash.


Plots and lovers and royal heir.

All so important to this pair.

Mary Queen of Scots is not great.

But to pan it I hesitate.


A tale like this is tough to tell.

And with two Queens it’s hard to gel.

Saoirse and Margot act with heart.

They will survive to do more art.

Directed by Josie Rourke from Beau Willimon’s screenplay based on a biography by John Guy, Mary Queen of Scots tries to cover too much. Although the movie helps us understand the challenges faced by  Mary, it jumps back and forth between England and Scotland in a hit or miss fashion. And with so many dark scenes, it’s difficult to know who’s betraying whom.

I also felt uncomfortable with Margot’s exaggerated make-up. Yes, Elizabeth probably lacked a lovely nose. But was it an eagle’s beak? And did she look like Bette Davis in What Happened to Baby Jane as she got older? Also, Saiorse’s charming Irish brogue seems off-putting in this role. Mary was raised in France, so that accent seems wrong. Wish I could let these details go, but they take me out of the movie, and I hate it when that happens.   

Look to your consciences and remember the theatre of the world is wider than the realm of England. --- Mary Queen of Scots

(Released by Focus Features and rated “PG-13” by MPAA.)

For more information about Mary Queen of Scots, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.

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