“Mary, Queen of Scots”
“Mary, Queen of Scots” is a fascinating movie on multiple levels. It recreates a moment in history where Mary and Queen Elizabeth engage in a pulsating rivalry to see who would be declared the legitimate Queen of England. It eventually resulted in Mary’s execution in 1587 after Elizabeth reluctantly consented.
But what makes this movie succeed are two female performances that should result in Oscar nominations. First and foremost, Saoirse Ronan gives a legendary performance as Mary in a career that has already resulted in three prior Oscar nominations. Born in 1542 and known as Mary Stuart, she was betrothed to a French prince when she was only 6 years of age. When he mercifully quickly died, she eventually returned to Scotland to claim a crown, given that she was the only surviving legitimate child of the late King James V. Trouble quickly followed, and Ronan is mesmerizing even as she places her head on the chopping block.
Yet what elevates this film to the top of the Oscar field is the performance of Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth. Though she does everything she can to maintain a warm friendship with the distant Mary, she eventually succumbs to a group of dangerous men who surround the throne, and she makes Mary a captive for 19 years. Robbie’s Elizabeth is in constant agony over what she has done to Mary, and you witness a fantastic moment in the film when she loudly screams while walking alone when Mary meets her executioner.
What is clear from this movie is that while men were forced to accept a woman on the throne, they did everything possible to control her. Suitors maneuvered to become a spouse for obvious reasons, while others sought power to rule a country from behind closed doors.
The quality of this film is helped by the performance of several of those men. The first is Jack Lowden’s as Lord Darnley, Mary’s second husband. Guy Pearce makes a tremendous contribution as William Cecil, an adviser to Queen Elizabeth. And then there was David Tennant’s performance as John Knox, a Protestant cleric who could not accept Queen Mary’s tolerance of her fellow Catholics.
All of these men shine a penetrating light into male dominance that continues to control governments to this very day. For example, take a look at Republicans in both the United States House of Representatives and our Indiana Legislature and see how many women have been welcomed to their party.
Though there is only one scene where Ronan and Robbie meet, their magnetic interaction makes it seem that they live in the same home. Ronan’s Mary is the first to have a child, which she believes entitles her to be both Queen of Scotland and England. Robbie’s Elizabeth will take a man to bed but never to the altar. Ironically, Elizabeth goes on to occupy her throne for over 40 years and is followed by Mary’s son, who becomes the next King James.
I strongly believe Ronan should finally receive an Oscar in the Best Actress category and Robbie will come awfully close to getting the Best Supporting Actress award. I strongly doubt that there is an actress alive today who could follow her sensational performance as Tonya Harding in last year’s “I, Tonya” with a role as the legendary queen of England. Those are reasons enough to see this film.
Though I am apparently one of the few reviewers who has the nerve to dismiss this film, the performances of three women keeps the movie from collapsing under its own weight. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a lot of fans in the art community, as proven by the praise given to his two prior lackluster films, “The Lobster” (2015) and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017). Once again, it seems that every time “The Favourite” commands your attention, it quickly falls down a cinematic rat hole.
However, the three female leads have received nominations from both the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, and that will undoubtedly follow when the Oscar nominations are released. And that begins with Olivia Colman’s stirring performance as a frail Queen Anne. Half deranged, constantly ill and having trouble walking across a room, she is in daily need of care and attention. She is also quite funny at times, particularly when she berates some servant standing at a door for irritating her despite doing nothing. I can’t remember in movie history a more brilliant performance by an actress playing a powerful woman living on the edge of madness.
And then you have the roles of Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, playing two competing women who engage in a battle to see who will control the queen. Though Weisz’s Sarah Churchill has long dominated the queen with an arrogant, dismissive attitude, she is challenged by Stone’s Abigail Masham, a female carnivore who wants to be No. 1 in the queen’s eyes. The duel of these two women makes this a watchable film even as the plot loses its emotional force.
The queen has many needs, which include the requirement that her female advisers provide her sexual comfort in bed. That proves to be no problem for either Abigail or Sarah, as it is a small price to pay to gain control of the queen.
Though the movie centers on the three female characters as set out above, Nicholas Hoult gives a memorable performance as Lord Robert Harley, an effeminate member of Parliament who loves wearing his large, blonde wig. As set out in my review of “Mary, Queen of Scots,” a cadre of men sought to dominate every English queen, and Lord Harley wisely sought to aid Abigail in her quest to eliminate Sarah. Hoult is an underrated actor, and you really should hunt down his performances as a vampire living with a moral code in “Warm Bodies” (2013), his great performance as Nux, a villain-turned-ally in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and his memorable turn as J.D. Salinger in “Rebel in the Rye” (2017).
In any event, while art house fans need to take the time to see this movie on the big screen, everyone else should be prepared to leave the theater saying, “Well, it had its moments.”•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.