Brendan Da Costa

Mary Queen of Scots (2018) Poster

Title: Mary Queen of Scots


Directed by: Josie Rourke


Written by: Beau Willimon


Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant & Guy Pearce


Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Amelia Granger & Kate Pakenham with Alex Oakley & Harriet Spencer

“How wokeness

ruined a bevy

of Hollywood

productions.”

Reel Talk - Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

December 4, 2021
by Brendan Da Costa

Substantive performances from the film’s cast are almost completely lost on confused characters, distracting directorial decisions and pointlessly progressive plotlines. It’s a film that would be forgettable if it didn’t serve as such a perfect case study for future generations trying to understand how “wokeness” ruined a bevy of Hollywood productions.

 

2018’s Mary Queen of Scots is a historical drama that revisits the source-material-rich reign of Queen Elizabeth, told this time from the perspective of its titular character, the customary villain in the Elizabethan story.

 

Try as it may to focus its narrative on Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), this film can’t help but feel like it was edited together with the B-roll from 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age. As such, it’s difficult not to compare Mary Queen of Scots with Shekhar Kapur’s biographical drama piece. While the comparison works favourably for the more recent film in some regards, it also makes it feel derivative in the worst of all possible ways.

 

Critics panned Shakur’s film for its historical liberties—and fairly so, there were many of them and they were shameless. But at least Shakur’s deviations from historical fact were intended to serve some sort of purpose, to further the story he was trying to tell. The historical liberties taken in Mary of Queen of Scots are, at best, trifling and, at worst, incredibly insulting.

“Robbie’s deft performance towers over this film and is, in large part, why it feels like it should have just been a Shakur remake.”

Writer Beau Willimon—of House of Cards acclaim—falls far short of his best. Willimon’s shortcomings in the script act as stepping off points for director Rourke. Rourke inexplicably tries to cram 21st century “wokeness” into the 16th century corset of Mary Queen of Scots. I suppose the thought process—however woefully misguided—behind the decision to cast visible minorities was to provide a type of equal opportunity. While the effort is commendable, the result is more so distracting than anything else, particularly for a plot with so much more going on and a story with so much more to say.

It would have been no less distracting had they have decided to green screen in elephants stampeding through the Scottish Highlands. Audiences might be colour blind when it comes to race, but they are not uneducated when it comes to history. While it is fair to ask that viewers suspend their disbelief, they can’t be expected to expel it altogether.

 

Even this, however, would have been a surmountable obstacle had it not been for the single most useless contortion of historical fact in a film since woolly mammoths were used in the construction of the pyramids in 2008’s 10,000 BC.

“It would have been no less distracting had they have decided to green screen in elephants stampeding through the Scottish Highlands.”
“Ronan had to search for Mary Stuart’s humanity between the lines of the script.”

For reasons that only a practitioner familiar with the darkest arts of “Wokeism” would understand, the writers took more than a few liberties with Jack Lowden’s character, Henry Stuart. The inclusion of a same-sex love affair that took the plot nowhere and taught us nothing is cringe-inducing enough to leave you with a crick in your neck . To see sexual orientation used in a film’s plot as nothing more than a token to signal “wokeness” and superficial progressivism can only be described as belittling. It is, frankly, a shameful little political ploy, an offensive obscenity more abhorrent today than homosexuality would have been to the 16th century people depicted in the film.

“Saoirse Ronan as the titular character […] manages to find a moment or two out from under Robbie’s shadow.”

Ultimately, it’s the actors—who one imagines could only have been duped, manipulated, cajoled, peer-pressured, career-pressured or simply pressured into portraying those mongoloid versions of their historical counterparts—that lose out the most.

 

Lowden attempted to salvage some of what history actually has to say about Henry Stuart but didn’t have enough room to do so.

 

Margot Robbie’s depiction of Queen Elizabeth stands in stark contrast to previous depictions—depictions that audiences have become accustomed to and comfortable with. This works in Robbie’s favour. She breathes some much-needed humanity into the film and portrays, in bursts of brilliance, a fully-imagined Elizabeth that is as flawed as she is fearsome. Favourable comparisons to Cate Blanchett’s 1998 and 2007 depictions of Elizabeth bode well for Robbie—both outings earned Blanchett Academy Award nominations and define the early part of her illustrious career. Robbie’s deft performance towers over this film and is, in large part, why it feels like it should have just been a Shakur remake.

 

To her credit, Saoirse Ronan as the titular character—and supposed protagonist of the film—manages to find a moment or two out from under Robbie’s shadow. Whereas Robbie’s Elizabeth was well-written, Ronan’s Mary Stuart was the one-dimensional stock character of a woman in a man’s world.

Ronan had to search for Mary Stuart’s humanity between the lines of the script. To her credit, she found moments of subtlety to flesh out her character and give her life beyond what was written for her. In those moments, she shines.

 

On the technical side, some atrocious and uneven lighting pulled focus away from the more overwhelming aspects of the production but, as its awards record shows, costuming and makeup more than compensated for those mishaps.

Ultimately, members of the cast and crew were able to overcome some of the senseless decisions made by the film’s writer, director and producers. For the film’s expertly crafted and acted climatic scene alone, I’d recommend Mary Queen of Scots. Just keep a fact-checker nearby.