Release Date(s)2018 (February 26, 2019)
Studio(s)Working Title Films/Focus Features (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
A tale of two monarchs, Mary Queen of Scots tells the parallel stories of Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England (Margot Robbie). Women rulers in a male-dominated world, they have learned to command respect, rule with authority, and manage court intrigue, with varying degrees of success. The film opens with Mary being led to the chopping block, and the balance of the movie shows how she arrived there.
Elizabeth was a Protestant and Mary a Catholic – a divide that touched off many political and military battles of the era. Mary was raised in France and, at age 19, arrives in Scotland as queen. The Catholics in Scotland and England cheer her succession to the Scottish throne and champion her claim as heir to the English throne, but she is hated by Protestants. John Knox (David Tennant), founder of the Church of Scotland, is openly sexist and anti-Catholic and consistently agitates for Mary’s overthrow.
Mary is the stronger role, as director Josie Rourke shows us different facets of the woman. She can be girlish and frivolous with her ladies in waiting and compassionate to underlings, but austere and self-righteous when defending her right to rule. The character of Elizabeth is less explored.
Ms. Robbie, filmed frequently from a low angle to emphasis Elizabeth’s regality, has little to do other than preside over her all-male council, confounding them and protecting her throne. Despite pressure to marry and produce an heir, she is reluctant to wed for fear that a husband will seize the throne. She’s the stronger of the two monarchs because she is driven more by duty than emotion, a factor that plays into Mary’s downfall.
There are impressive outdoor scenes of Mary riding through the cloudy Scottish countryside with her soldiers and entourage. Much of the plot revolves around her vacillation over whom to wed – the political insider Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn) or the dashing Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden). This courtship consumes too much time and borders on soap opera. Elizabeth is portrayed as the staunch virgin queen, resentful of the more traditional Mary who marries and bears a son (who would eventually become King James I). Director Rourke’s sympathies clearly are with Mary as a victim of the times, politics, and her own religious devotion.
Kudos go to the costumers, production designers, and hairstylists, who are instrumental in creating the movie’s sumptuous look. However, the script has a rather antiseptic feel and the film tends to plod along. There’s no question that these 16th century women are worthy of a film, and director Rourke, in focusing on strong women who were ahead of their time, perhaps wants us to reflect on the #MeToo movement. But this film never rises above a routine biopic.
The Blu-ray release features 1080p resolution. Aspect ratio is 2.39:1. Mary’s freckles, Elizabeth’s pock-marked face, elaborate hairstyles, and costume details are striking. The use of color is dramatic. Elizabeth’s blazing red wigs, the blood-red dress Mary wears at the chopping block and a blue one she wears in an outdoor scene, really pop against the otherwise muted color palette. The dull stones of the castle, the skies, and the many candle-lit scenes lean either toward grey or deep shadows. Even the grassy terrain, under cloudy skies, lacks brightness.
Audio is English Dolby Atmos, which is nicely balanced with distinct dialogue throughout. Two scenes stand out: a battle scene featuring the combined sounds of men shouting, swords clanking, and guns firing, and a later scene featuring an explosion which is both loud and dramatic. Early on in the film, waves crash against rocks and seagulls squawk as Mary and her entourage come ashore, soaking wet. English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 7.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital options are also available, as are subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary, three short behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a Digital Copy code found on a paper insert within the package.
Audio Commentary – Director Josie Rourke and composer Max Richter provide an uninspired running reiteration of what we’re seeing, with little in the way of anecdotes about the genesis, casting, filming, and reception of the movie. They do discuss briefly the transitions between action in England and in Scotland, and the rigors of filming a lengthy outdoor scene in a driving rain on moving horses. The production had a two-week rehearsal schedule, and Rourke compliments the stunt crew on the effectiveness of the battle sequence. Though there is no historical evidence that Mary and Elizabeth ever met in person, Rourke took dramatic license because she felt the audience would want to see a climactic scene between the two rulers. Richter has the annoying habit, after Rourke comments, of uttering a “Mm” or a “Yeah” without contributing much.
An Epic Confrontation featurette – Director Josie Rourke, actors Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, and producer Tim Bevan discuss the meeting of the two queens, the “actors looking at each other in character for the first time.” Rourke felt this scene was essential dramatically, even though history has no record of such a meeting.
Tudor Feminism featurette – Both Mary and Elizabeth were looking to lead and realized each was a threat to the other, underscoring a theme of sisterhood vs. rivalry. They ruled “when men called the shots.” The film deals with women in power and the cost of leadership. Both women are referred to as modern.
Something About Marys featurette – Saoirse Ronan says that the most fun she had was filming the scenes with the actors playing her ladies in waiting. The close relationship among the actors translated to the screen.
– Dennis Seuling