Over-killer queens…

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Box-of­fice queens Saoirse Ro­nan and Mar­got Rob­bie go head-to-head in this richly packed but over-am­bi­tious royal biopic, recre­at­ing the ri­valry be­tween plucky Mary and her de­ter­mined cousin, Eng­land’s El­iz­a­beth I. De­but di­rec­tor Josie Rourke kick­starts her hand­some fem­i­nist melo­drama at a reck­less gal­lop, as Ro­nan’s re­bel­lious teen Mary Stu­art re­turns to claim her Scot­tish throne, dis­cov­er­ing that El­iz­a­beth’s (Rob­bie) power threat­ens every­thing.

Rourke’s fresh, fe­male-cen­tred read­ing of Mary’s rocky reign cre­ates a snakes-and-lad­ders story of ill-fated mar­riages, sword-rat­tling skir­mishes and lordly be­tray­als. But its breath­less machi­na­tions favour das­tardly court plot­ting over nar­ra­tive clar­ity. If the crush of beardy courtiers de­liv­er­ing ex­po­si­tion can con­fuse, scriptwriter Beau Wil­limon (House Of Cards) also goes all-in with the his­tor­i­cal fac­tors.

With hefty por­tions of schem­ing and throne-claims to gulp down, the hec­tic back-and-forth be­tween har­ried CER­TIFI­CATE 15 DI­REC­TOR Josie Rourke STAR­RING Saoirse Ro­nan, Mar­got Rob­bie, David Ten­nant, Jack Low­den SCREEN­PLAY Beau Wil­limon DIS­TRIB­U­TOR Uni­ver­sal RUN­NING TIME 124 mins

queens can gen­er­ate whiplash in the viewer, es­pe­cially when punc­tu­ated by Mary-slan­der­ing ser­mons from David Ten­nant’s preacher John Knox.

More com­pelling is the disas­ter of Mary’s se­duc­tion by Jack Low­den’s deca­dent Lord Darn­ley, as des­per­ate for a crown as Mary is for an heir. As Ro­nan’s much-be­trayed queen pin­balls be­tween plot­ters, Rob­bie gets the sticky end of the scep­tre with less screen time. Where Rob­bie ru­mi­nates, Ro­nan rules, fizzing with head­strong anger or wracked with an­guish. Mag­nif­i­cent in the (in­ac­cu­rate but pow­er­ful) meet­ing of the re­gal ri­vals, Ro­nan carves a deadly path. She’s the jewel in the crown of Rourke’s the­atri­cal style, which reaches for the twisty treach­ery of a real-life GOT but keeps the ac­tion de­ter­minedly in­ti­mate. Kate Sta­bles

tHe Ver­DIct

Ro­nan is the monarch of the lens in this feisty, fem­i­nist biopic, favour­ing queenly clashes over bat­tle­field ac­tion.

The bold new look for Florence & The Ma­chine won favour with re-en­ac­tors ev­ery­where.

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