Ronan & Robbie Thrill in Ruthless Power Struggle

Queen Mary of Scotland is a glaring story of intrigued palace acts, charged with treason and sexual machinations. British director Josie Rourke's first feature film, Mary Queen of Scots is told in a distinctly feminine way. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie light up the screen as powerful women surrounded by male duplicators. Their competition with each other exacerbated by the intrigues of acolytes. The English costume theater is rarely so entertaining.

In August 1561, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), a Catholic raised in France, returned to Scotland to reclaim her throne. His bastard half-brother, Earl of Moray (James McArdle), was the regent of Scotland in the absence of Mary. Mary was cunning and extremely confident. His return to Britain was seen as a challenge for his cousin, Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), Queen of England. Elizabeth was a Protestant. His council of nobles, led by William Cecil (Guy Pearce), feared that Mary's loyalty was to the papacy in Rome. Elizabeth had never married and was childless. Mary was a legitimate competitor of the English crown, especially if she produced an heir.

Mary and Elizabeth begin a long correspondence through their counselors. Elizabeth is truly impressed by the beauty and intelligence of her cousin. The two women had to have their eyes behind their heads. The nobles in their courts disdained the female kingdom. Elizabeth is convinced to send her lover as a pretender to Mary, who could play the role of spy. But Mary had other plans and was targeting another cousin, Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden), a nobleman with family claims in Scotland and England.

Related: First Look at Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Josie Rourke explores all facets of queens' life. We see the daily routines of Mary and Elizabeth with surprising details. Mary's maids are menstruating in a memorable scene. The queens were surrounded at all times by a crowd of handlers. They were royal women in a world dominated by patriarchal men. Mary embraced her monarch status and was involved in all decisions. Elizabeth disdained politics, but was furious when her advisers were annoyed by Mary. The tension between the two grows while the blinds are inflamed. The experience of Rourke as a theater director is obvious. The queens' interactions with their courts are cleverly blocked and modified.

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie bring succinct differences to their characters. It is the essential drama of the film. Mary and Elizabeth shared a birthright and a thirst for power, but not much more. Elizabeth's refusal to marry and be beholden to a man was her greatest asset. Mary condemned Elizabeth as "barren", considering the race to produce an heir as paramount. Josie Rourke explored their sexual liaisons with meticulousness. The two women aimed for supreme authority, but radically different ways to achieve it. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie deliver amazing shows.

From Focus Features, The Scottish Queen Mary is a fascinating power struggle. Historical drama, sex and stabbing are entertaining. I am not usually a fan of this material, but I have been captivated here. Saoirse Ronan could have another Oscar nomination. She continues to be excellent at every performance.


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