MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
OUT 18 JANUARY
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
Ronan is the monarch of the lens in this feisty, feminist biopic, favouring queenly clashes over battlefield action.
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