REVIEW: Plot issues cause ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ to stumble

I really, really wanted to like this one more.

As the name implies, “Mary Queen of Scots” tells the story of Queen Mary of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan), who for much of her adult life, was a rival to England’s Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie). The film follows Mary returning to Scotland after some years away and assuming her responsibilities on the throne.

With time passing, Mary and her advisers see a legitimate claim to the English throne as well and decide to take action, with the idea of Mary replacing Elizabeth. Along with heritage, the situation is also driven by religion, with Mary being a Catholic and Elizabeth ruling as a Protestant.

The conflict between these two queens should have made for a much more compelling feature than this film actually is. While there are some great moments that take place here, they unfortunately end up being too few and far in between.

One of the issues is the poor plotting, with the passage of time and character motivations changing and shifting without enough consistency. Those hoping for a mental battle between these two strong women will likely be disappointed. Any time either one takes action on the conflict, the impacts always seem to be mitigated somehow in the story.

It’s also noticeable that the movie seems to skip over a fairly large and important section of Mary’s life that’s explained only with captions at the picture’s conclusion.

As expected, the highlight of “Mary” is the acting from the two leading performers. Both Ronan and Robbie do tremendous work here, especially during sequences of political intrigue. Ronan is great in giving Mary a personality and providing a fascinating look into the life of the queen. Robbie, meanwhile, does the most with her relatively limited screentime, bringing the legendary ruler to life in convincing fashion.

Courtesy Focus Features and Working Title.

The film also looks very good. The landscapes are all well captured, while the production, set and costume design is on point. From start to finish, the film is a visually good experience.

In the end, though, the plot just wasn’t as well executed as it should have been. Despite featuring award caliber performances and a look that’s easy on the eyes, the film lacks a real hook to get audiences invested and is never consistently engaging. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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