Mary Queen of Scots
As the end credits rolled for Mary Queen of Scots and Beau Willimon was revealed to be the film’s writer, I turned to fellow Asheville Movie Guy Bruce Steele and said, “Mary, Queen of Cards.”
Following a discussion of the film between my takes on Bumblebee and Welcome to Marwen, he one-upped me as the credits concluded by saying, “It’s very Game of Cards.”
The cinematic debut of British theatre director Josie Rourke indeed has the political maneuvering of Willimon’s Capitol Hill drama in the gorgeous setting of the comparably machiavellian HBO fantasy, but never reaches the heights of those television forebears.
Best Actress also-rans in the most recent Academy Awards cycle, Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie face off as royal cousins Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively, in a mid-1500s Britain where men don’t appear too happy to have women in charge, especially with the throne’s rightful possessor in question.
Much of the film’s drama is derived from this male scheming, and while it’s all a matter of historical record, it would be a shame to elaborate on the actions of, say, Elizabeth’s commoner would-be lover Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn) and trusted advisor William Cecil (Guy Pearce) or Mary’s half brother James (James McArdle, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
Under Rourke’s practiced direction and spouting Willimon’s charged dialogue, the gifted cast — which also includes David Tennant as rabble-rousing preacher John Knox and Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey) as the pro-papal Earl of Lennox — mesh well and look great in exquisite costumes amidst remarkable natural scenery that Rourke frames like a pro.
Within the high level of professionalism, however, there’s a distinct lack of joy to the proceedings that stifles Mary Queen of Scots’ reach beyond that of a sharply-made historical drama. Such a tone may be true to the events at hand, but in a season where The Favourite — centering, interestingly enough, on Mary's great-great-granddaughter Queen Anne — set a new standard for period piece creativity, good to very good isn’t quite enough.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Focus Features)