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Rated 3 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Exquisite Acting by Ronan and Robbie
by James Colt Harrison

Mary Queen of Scots may be the one movie to beat in the costume design category of the 91st Academy Awards. Already nominated for an Oscar® for Best Costume Design for Alexandra Byrne, the film also swept the nominations from BAFTA (British), Satellite Awards, and scores of others. It has also made quite a stir in the makeup divisions, having picked up Oscar® and BAFTA Award nominations for Makeup and Hairstyling for artists Jenny Shircare, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks. In addition, Margot Robbie has been highlighted for both a BAFTA and Satellite Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” by John Guy, screenwriter Beau Willimon added a few dramatic touches of his own.  For instance, according to history, the two cousins Mary and Queen Elizabeth never actually met in person. But for dramatic license, we have a wonderfully viperous encounter of the two imperious queens. Mary is played superbly by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, and Margot Robbie tackles the bald-headed, wig-festooned Elizabeth, both accomplished scene stealers.

In the movie, Mary has been spending her youth getting schooled in France. In matrimony, that is, having gotten married. She is a widow at 18, and when she returns to Scotland she feels it is her right to claim the throne. Mary runs up against an obstacle, however. Elizabeth 1 is already occupying the throne and has no intention of retiring to a rest home.

With Mary’s head on the chopping block in some of the very first scenes, we already know how it is going for her. History has already told us. It wasn’t a good day, and her hair got terribly messed up with the blood squirting and all. Enough of the gore.

The two gals, corseted up to have 18-inch waists and bulging eyes, are definitely rivals. But it is the men in the background who push them into having a cat fight over being the top banana. Men always seem to love war  and chopping off heads and skewering their alleged enemies with five foot long swords. But the ladies prefer having a war of words, although they were definitely influenced by all the evil men in their courts.

The reason to see this film is the exquisite acting by both ladies, each one topping the other and then getting squelched by their retorts. Robbie is probably the most “showy” of the two, having been saddled with playing poor, sick Elizabeth, who has lost her hair and has pock marks on her face. She necessarily runs into a big powder puff to make her face look like cake flour. Her head is startlingly topped off by fire-engine red wigs curled like scorched cannolis. All this is the spectacular work of Oscar®-nominated hair and makeup artists Marc Pilcher, Jessica Brooks and Jenny Shircare.

Ronan, a naturally red-headed (but subdued in shade) Irish lass, has grown into a lovely beauty. Showing acting prowess far beyond her age (she looks 12), she more than stands strong in her confrontation scene with Robbie.

Whether the film is totally accurate or not, it is a delight to watch two of the finest actresses today show what they can do buffering off each other. The battle scenes are thrown in for excitement. The males in court are merely used as decoration, and even Australia’s Guy Pearce and handsome young Joe Alwyn serve merely as eye candy for the ladies, and some men, too.

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

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