Review: “Mary Queen of Scots,” a Dynamic Dose of Gender Politics

  Mary Queen of scots

I was lucky to screen “Mary Queen of Scots,” a film out in limited release now, last week right after returning from Israel. I was fearful I would fall asleep from a shot of jetlag that accompanied me back to America as the screening took place on an early Monday morning.

I did not know much about Mary Stuart going into the screening, nor did I know much about her relationship with Queen Elizabeth. I was curious and quite excited to learn more about the supposed two rivals and real-life cousins, and I was also keen to watch two of the best actresses of our time play them by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. I admit that I do get a lot out of historical dramas, as these types of films prompt me to further research or gain an interest in certain periods of history I knew very little about.

And this is one of those periods of history, as well as two women who were arch rivals, that I feel fortunate to have been brought to my attention by this film. I was riveted and at the end of my seat during much of the screening. Though “Mary Queen of Scots” was recently shut out of the Golden Globe nominations and seems to have been ignored by global film critics during what may be an over-saturated slate of similar films (such as the recent Emma Stone film “The Favourite” which apparently takes place during a similar time period), I would venture to say this film, written by Beau Willimon (from “House of Cards” and a play I loved last year called “The Parisian Woman”) is a must-see film for any history buff or anyone interested in gender equity. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump when Hillary Clinton was snubbed, my attention to women in power has heightened and this film plays close attention to what it’s like to be a woman in power and the people who make getting and staying there very, very difficult. Remind you of someone who remains in the news daily? Yes, I am referring to Hillary Clinton, who we all know’s gender had something to do with her not being elected, amongst many other factors.

The film is about Mary and Elizabeth, who live in different countries during a very contentious time when Mary’s Catholicism was an issue, as was her relationship with her court and the men in her life. Much of the film follows her hope and attempt to become the successor to Queen Elizabeth, and the obstacles and thwarts put in her way, many by her arch-rival, Queen Elizabeth herself, who is consumed with jealousy by her inability to conceive a child. They both rule in a highly masculine world and are forced to make decisions men would never have to make based on marriage and having children. Mary is betrayed time and time again by both women and men, but mostly men, and it’s easy to feel sorry for her watching the film, and she ultimately is forced to abdicate the throne. The last scene of the film imagines the only meeting the two women ever had, and it is a scene I will never forget, where we see Mary begging for her throne, for her life. The film work around that scene is magical, creating a sense of vulnerability and tension between the two women, leading up to Mary’s inevitable death.

Queen Elizabeth wins out in the end but does she really, you may be left wondering. Mary had more happiness in her marriage and as a mother, though she was ultimately betrayed by her husband when he started having male suitors. He was put to death for his extramarital relations, leaving her a widow and humiliation to boot. Elizabeth is the one who carries on her reign, never having married. She ruled England for 45 years and as she stated in the film once or twice, it was because she ruled like a man.

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