When the trailer first came out, I felt excited to see this movie. Upon its release and some of the not too stellar reviews and often complaints about historical inaccuracies, my enthusiasm didn’t lessen. After all, as an author, I’ve taken my own creative liberties, if you will, in some of my historical and gothic romance books.
Let me preface this by saying the movie is full of stars you may not recognize underneath their hair and beards. Nevertheless, besides the leading ladies who play the queens (Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I), are a bunch of favorites such as David Tennant, Brendan Coyle (fka Mr. Bates from Downton), Guy Pearce, Martin Compston (who you may know from Line of Duty aka Steve Arnott), any many others are hiding behind facial hair unrecognizable. A few oddities in the series are characters who are African American and Asian, which appear out of place in the court of the queens for that time period.
As far as the movie goes, for me, it does have its problems. One point that rubbed me the wrong way after watching portrayals of Elizabeth I by Cate Blanchett is an entirely different spin on the personality traits of the English queen. Unlike other works, Margot Robbie is given the role of a queen who is full of self-doubt and low self-esteem as she compares herself to her cousin Mary and almost idolizes her throughout the story. In her mind, Mary is strong, beautiful, and everything she is not, which frankly just doesn’t sit well with me. Eventually, when they meet, she comes to some sort of epiphany, but it’s only because Mary thinks Elizabeth is her inferior.
Mary, of course, is what one might expect after seeing the previews. She’s strong-willed, independent, but unfortunately is unwelcome in the world she has returned to from France. At every turn, her Catholic background and intents on running Scotland as Queen are ruined by the men around her and the poor choice of a second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (marrying those cousins again) and then being forced after her husband is murdered to marry Lord Bothwell. It’s a twisted mess, frankly, of the male domination pushed by her brother who had been running the country in her absence.
Well, I won’t go into historical detail. You can Google the rest but don’t rely too heavily upon the movie since it was said that Mary and Elizabeth never met later in life. I’ve read they did meet when they were children but not as adults, and some say they never met at all. A point still debated.
The setting is gorgeous (apparently filmed in the UK and Scotland), and the costumes interesting with an odd choice of fabrics (denim). A few close-ups of the dresses and men’s clothing looked perfectly stitched by machine. You might enjoy this article from FrockFlicks having a good snark at the hair and costumes. I didn’t quite get Mary’s odd choice of earrings – both different from one another or Elizabeth’s shoddy jewelry at times. The men, of course, look quite dapper in their outfits of the day. Something about those jackets they wear makes them so attractive. The actresses who portrayed the queens did well in their parts, even if I didn’t agree with the weak Elizabeth characterization.
At times, I found the movie sluggish, the changes between scenes jumpy, and the storyline a bit choppy and confusing if you don’t know your history and what exactly is going on. I wanted to like the movie more than I did, frankly, so I’m only going to throw three kernels at the screen for this one, having left with a feeling of “meh.”
Oh, and though Mary has her head on the block at the end, they do at least spare you the gory details of the execution.