Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden
Directed by: Josie Rourke (debut)
Written by: Beau Willimon (“The Ides of March”)
Like “The Favourite,” “Mary, Queen of Scots” features its own interesting archrivalry between two women scheming for a monarchical power grab. As a historical biography, “MQOS” is much more conventional than Yorgos Lanthimos’ aforementioned film, but its sprawling storytelling about women in authoritative positions gives the picture its own sense of 16th-century political wokeness, which is notable in any era.
Helmed by first-time feature film director Josie Rourke, whose background is largely in theater, “MQOS” tells the story of Mary Stuart (three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan) who arrives in Scotland to reclaim her throne after the death of her husband, the King of France. She is met with masked contempt by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Oscar nominee Margot Robbie), who rules over both England and Scotland and isn’t about to relinquish authority to anyone.
Political maneuvering involving Mary and Elizabeth begins as they attempt to decipher what angle the other is playing to get what she wants. With her sovereignty in jeopardy, Elizabeth pushes back when she sees her cousin gain standing, especially since Mary is able to give birth to an heir and Elizabeth is not. The dynamic is a fiery one, even though Ronan and Robbie don’t share the screen until the film’s final act.
There is a lot of history to unpack in “MQOS” and these details are being questioned by historians. Some argue the queens were never on friendly terms, as depicted in the film. Others point out that Mary didn’t have an Irish accent like Ronan’s natural one. And the meeting the rulers have at the climax of the film? It never happened, although it does make for compelling theater.
It’s easier for a period piece like “The Favourite” to call itself a farce and get away with taking more creative license. For “MQOS,” there seems to be less leeway for purists who had problems in the past with films like 1971’s “Mary, Queen of Scots” or 2007’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” If you can overlook some of the historical inaccuracies and the occasionally sluggish narrative, “MQOS” has a lot to say about the rise of women in a male-dominated world.