Rated R for an uncomfortable amount of non-nude sexuality. It's pretty graphic, considering that a lot of the movie touts around the word "Catholic". People treat each other terribly. There's a fair amount of violence and conniving. It should be R, but it also remarkably bleak. If you can get an R-rating for just being kind of a bummer, then this deserves even more of an R-rating. It's fine. It's got what you expect. R.
DIRECTOR: Josie Rourke
Would would ever want to rule? Seriously. What kind of sociopath not only thinks that they are the most deserving to rule everyone, but would kill and declare war for it? I think that is where the disconnect happened for me. Like a lot of movies where there really isn't a hero in the story, I kind of had to do that thing with Breaking Bad where I attached myself to the person with the most compelling narrative. I don't know if that's what the movie wanted me to do, though. I really think that I'm supposed to be unironically sympathetic of Mary. I am, more than the other characters. But Mary throws around the world "Catholic" while the movie intentionally has her do some wildly not-Catholic things throughout.
I actually have more insight into Mary Stuart than most other historical eras. In college, I had to get into the nitty gritty of Mary's life because I was taking a stage design class where our primary focus was on the play aptly named Mary Stuart. The story of Mary Stuart is known for its complexity. This is a story, based on your allegiances, that shifts who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. If you are Catholic and / or anti-England, you are instantly going to bond with Stuart. Her exile and strong will seem like she is fighting for a cause that desperately needs organization. She has a more tolerant attitude than Elizabeth, who demands that all of her subjects fall under the purview of the Church of England. However, if you are pro-Protestant and an anglophile, Elizabeth kind of has a point. Mary is intentionally trying to usurp the throne. She has some claim on it, but it is Elizabeth's right to determine succession for the throne. She is also the head of the Church of England and probably wouldn't be conducting herself to minimize the effectiveness of the church. See where this is going? It's just that I'm not quite sure what direction Mary Queen of Scots is trying to take. Saoirse Ronan as Mary seems to be the sympathetic character in the story. I want her to fallible and I appreciate that the story made her fallible. But her character makes these choices that are wildly anti-Catholic. It's the problem that falls with politics and religion, especially when it comes to war. I really think that the movie wants to stress that religion, although it is the center of this conflict, has nothing to do with religion itself. Rather, religion is used as a label. But I sympathize with Mary because she is Catholic. It's kind of like reminding me that a ballplayer (I'm terrible at sports) doesn't really represent your city because he's being paid to be there. Mary seems to really be devoted to the faith at moments in the story. But it seems like she also doesn't get some basic tenets of the faith. Contrast that with Elizabeth who is clearly painted (pun intended) to be the bad guy for a lot of the movie. I'm really wondering if the protagonist is always the one is supposed to be dynamic because Elizabeth is the dynamic character in this story. Elizabeth is shown as cold and heartless while Mary is very human in her portrayal.
This is the story of two queens. The parallel nature of the film is intriguing. One can't help but notice the shockingly similar hair when the film shifts focus between Elizabeth and Mary. While I'm never going to say that I love this movie, there is a lot of depth to this movie that absolutely adore. Mary's world is bleak, but it also feels like home. Both worlds are ones entrenched in politics. It's just interesting to see that the way that politics is played out is different in the two worlds, but both has the same results. Elizabeth's world is one of conniving and courtly drama. The court listens and plots behind closed doors. They give each other sly glances and knowing looks, pushing Elizabeth to make choices that may not be in her best interest. They look at Elizabeth as the placeholder for the throne and think of the best interest for the throne at all times. On the flip side, the Scots seemingly love Mary. They are cheering and huzzahing with every bit of good news. They seem like a proud rebellion, standing up to the oppressive England and are grateful to have Mary as such an outspoken public figure. But every time that Mary has a misstep or makes yet another enemy, it seems like the Scots simply grab power. It's so odd how the monarchy works. When Mary is being imprisoned or threatened, people still bow to her. That bow is a representation of fealty and servitude. But these people act as her captors. Are they bowing to the throne? What is the relationship there? It is in there as irony, but I'm sure that was happening in reality. The film then takes it to a great other step. The world of the monarchy is the world of men. This parallel is about the strength of women ruling in a world of men. Everyone treats the monarchy, regardless of which queen we see, with a kind of scorn. I noticed that when I watch tales of female monarchs, the backbiting gets way more heated. Younger me and those quick to judge may use this as evidence for why women make weak rulers. I don't think it is that and I think Mary Queen of Scots wants me to think about that. It is because women in these courts aren't given the same trust and benefit of the doubt that their male counterparts receive. The secrecy and plotting comes from the fact that every edict that is sent forth may be questioned. Honestly, I don't know how it is done. There is a time when Mary is in prison and she gets her husband to get them out, even though that he was part of the conspiracy to get her. Mary Stuart, the play I was working on, focuses exclusively on Mary's time in prison under Elizabeth. I knew that she was going to get out of the Scottish prison because I knew exactly how she died before I started the movie. But there were so many times where people just turned on Mary in an instant. It's absolutely bizarre.
I don't love the commentary that the movie is making on faith. I kind of have the feeling that David Tennant might be a hardcore atheist. He's not. I just looked it up. But Tennant's character seems to point out the dangers of organized religion. I wonder what his filming schedule was like. Almost every one of his scenes is him shouting from the pulpit, slandering Mary Stuart. Did they just change the lighting and got new extras in the scenes? But the inclusion of Tennant's character almost is a reminder that faith isn't real. Again, I'm a man of faith. It is always being challenged and that depresses me more than I can state. But there are these moments that stress that faith is a joke. Mary's misunderstanding of what it means to be Catholic is terrifying. She holds some elements of dogma with absolute certainty. She refuses to get a divorce. Good for her. But then she plays it all fast and loose with what constitutes sex and lust? Also, the fact that she's willing to fight and kill and call it a holy war? No one here is actually faithful. Mary talks to the soldiers about heaven and they borderline just feel awkward about the whole thing. David Tennant is a political figure as much as he is a minister. And don't think it isn't lost on the audience that Tennant is calling Stuart a "whore" with a giant cross in the middle of the room. It just seems to say that people of faith seem to be dumb. One of the last lines of the movie is something around the lines of "She thinks she's going to be martyred," like that is absolutely absurd. I know that this is based on Mary Stuart. I've done research and I'm still not really sure who the real Mary Stuart is. But I like the idea that Mary Stuart died for her faith. I want to believe that her faith was something more than just a political ploy and that she wasn't a simpleton when it came to her beliefs. My soul kind of depends on the idea that faith is a real thing and not simply an identifier or a marker for a census. It's a real bummer watching the movie in this light.
In terms of quality of film, Mary Queen of Scots checks all the right boxes. It's a gorgeous looking movie. Most movies from this time period offer something pretty to look at. But Mary seems to take pride in every shot. The costuming is outstanding. It also doesn't hurt that Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are absolutely phenomenal. My first introduction to Margot Robbie was in The Big Short where she plays a version of herself. In a million years, did I imagine that she would be playing the Virgin Queen? Not for a second. But Robbie has become one of my favorite actors of the past decades. She is remarkably talented. I love her performance here and I like her in most things. Regardless, it is a solid work, if slightly unremarkable as a piece of historical drama. But it does have depth, so I can't complain too much.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.