The Reel Review
Saoirse Ronan stars in this biopic about Mary Stuart, first the infant Queen of Scotland, then teen Queen of France, who, in 1561, returned home to Scotland as an 18-year-old widow to reclaim her throne, in defiance of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, whose Protestant rule had since spread to Scotland.
Except for its climatic meeting of the two rulers, London stage director Josie Rourke’s film debut is a pretty straightforward and mostly accurate adaptation, with the requisite stunning views of the Scottish Highlands, magnificent costumes and set design, and another stellar performance by Ronan (Lady Bird, Brooklyn), as the brash, clever Scottish Queen with a not-so-clever marital record. Margot Robbie brings an added dose of not-so-pretty realness to England’s Virgin Queen – (that smallpox outbreak – yikes!) – who would ultimately be succeeded by Mary’s son James. History buffs, in particular, will appreciate this well-crafted biographical drama and its rare, personal portrait of the female rulers navigating a horrifyingly misogynistic, male-dominated world.
• Unlike in the film, Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart never actually met in person – they communicated only via letters. Elizabeth disapproved of Mary’s marriage to Henry Stuart, a Catholic and English subject, who also happened to be Mary’s first cousin. ?
• During her time in France and for much of her life in Scotland, Mary’s companions were the “four Marys,” girls her own age, all named Mary, from some of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming and Livingston.
• Mary was tall (5’11”), beautiful, outgoing and clever – a real renaissance woman who played several musical instruments, learned several languages and was adept at writing stories and poetry, and engaging in horsemanship, falconry and needlework.