MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS Star­ring Saoirse Ro­nan. Rated 14A

The Georgia Straight - - Music - by Janet Smith

FEM­I­NIST RETELLINGS of the sto­ries of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures—it’s a thing this hol­i­day-movie sea­son. But the lat­est en­tries that reimag­ine queens’ courts could not be more dif­fer­ent.

Yes, both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots de­pict worlds where po­lit­i­cal men try to ma­noeu­vre for­mi­da­ble fe­male roy­alty. And both take lib­er­ties with his­tory, show­ing the mon­archs’ sex­ual sides and let­ting them stand up to misog­y­nis­tic male powerhouses.

But The Favourite ratch­ets up the ten­sions between ladies Sarah and Abi­gail, and shows the en­tire palace as a sur­real won­der­land of ex­cess. In Mary Queen of Scots, di­rec­tor Josie Rourke re­casts her tit­u­lar ruler and El­iz­a­beth I not so much as the en­e­mies the his­tory books have de­picted, but as long-dis­tance BFFS.

She also plays things much more con­ven­tion­ally than Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos does in his brash The Favourite, skew­ing more to an earnest pe­riod piece bathed in broody Ed­in­burgh greys. To be fair, screen­writer Beau Wil­limon has a more com­pli­cated story to lay out. When the film be­gins, Mary Stu­art is al­ready a wi­dow, re­turn­ing to Scot­land from France to claim what she be­lieves to be her right to the throne—of Eng­land, as well as of her rugged home­land. Her blood­lines over­lap with her cousin El­iz­a­beth’s, but re­li­gion plays a com­pli­cated role in the strug­gle (Mary is Catholic; El­iz­a­beth is Protes­tant), as does the threat of re­newed war on the is­land.

What’s most cen­tral to the film is that Mary’s body is not her own. She’s born to breed, and men want to bed and wed her for power, by force or by se­duc­tion. And when ru­mours start cir­cu­lat­ing about her pu­rity as queen, it spells dis­as­trous con­se­quences for a woman who dares to wield power.

It’s an ex­cit­ing idea, but the plot gets com­plex and doesn’t al­ways jell the way it should; a con­fus­ing crowd of courtiers abounds, and there’s at least one an­ti­cli­mac­tic bat­tle scene where you’re hard-pressed to fig­ure out who’s fight­ing whom.

Still, by far the best thing about Mary Queen of Scots is its char­ac­ter stud­ies. In some ways, Mary and El­iz­a­beth look like mir­ror im­ages of each other, with their heart-shaped red wigs—though, here, Mary prefers to let her real hair down for horse rides. But Saoirse Ro­nan paints Mary as smart, flu­ently French-speak­ing, and feisty; Mar­got Rob­bie’s El­iz­a­beth is rav­aged by small­pox, pow­dered up to hide the marks, and para­noid about how this beau­ti­ful young queen may threaten her. Mary is also the only per­son in the world who can truly un­der­stand what she’s go­ing through, the Vir­gin Queen sac­ri­fic­ing her life to her reign.

A few side char­ac­ters hold their own with the leads, no­tably Jack Low­den as Mary’s booz­ing, reck­less sec­ond hus­band, Henry, and Is­mael Cruz Cór­dova’s in­trigu­ing, sex­u­ally am­bigu­ous spin on mu­si­cian-poet David Rizzio, who once scan­dal­ized Mary’s court.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.