Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Mary, Queen of Scots

On Friday, January 11, we went to see the new movie, Mary, Queen of Scots, which is very loosely based on the life of the unhappy Queen. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary, and Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth I of England. Unlike other stories about Mary, as, for example, the plot of Donizetti’s opera, or Schiller’s play, the movie plot focuses on the period from Mary’s return to Scotland after being widowed to her eventual flight from Scotland into England and the dubious sanctuary provided by Elizabeth.

Mary returns to Scotland after the death of her French husband to claim the throne of Scotland, a move that is unpopular with Scotland’s Protestant population. (John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (played here by David Tennant) is one of the Queen’s most vehement critics.) Her imperious ruling style soon makes her politically unpopular as well, and, when she dismisses her half-brother, James, Earl of Murray, who had been her regent, from her council, an insurrection follows.  That the insurrection was partially funded (according to the movie) by Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State (Thom Petty), in the cause of destabilizing Mary’s reign.  He hardly needed to, since the Scots prove perfectly capable of intrigue, murder, and treason on their own.

The climax of the movie is the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth (generally believed to be apocryphal--), wherein Mary seals her fate by telling Elizabeth, “I will not be scolded by an inferior,” to which Elizabeth prophesies that Mary’s strengths, including her beauty and her courage, will be her downfall. This, of course, proved true as Mary’s beauty and “romantic” situation kept drawing would-be champions out of the woodwork, a situation Elizabeth could not tolerate, and which led to Mary’s eventual condemnation.  Her courage makes sure she continues to be headstrong and heedless of consequences. Ms. Ronan plays the mercurial character with appropriate drive and energy.

The treatment of Elizabeth is handled interestingly. Usually, she is portrayed as confident and the master of most situations, as in the movies starring Cate Blanchett. Here, she is more insecure, and worried by Mary’s competition, not only as a rival for the throne of England, but as a woman. Rather than rely on femininity to preserve her crown, as Mary has tried and failed to do, she says that she has “become a man.”

While some of the ahistorical aspects of the film (notably Elizabeth’s accelerated aging compared with everyone else in the film) it’s entertaining and good to look at. (Some of the design aspects are interesting: for all we see of Scotland, it’s entirely wilderness except for a couple of castles. Parts of what is supposedly Holyrood House, the Scots royal palace, are shown with rough rock walls, as though it were part cave.

Conclusion: Enjoyable if you are not a historical purist.

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Tags: historical, movies

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