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Mary Queen of Scots


Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Martin Compston, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Adrian Lester, Joe Alwyn, Ian Hart, Brendan Coyle, Gemma Chan, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Simon Russell Beale

Director: Josie Rourke

Lumpenly heavy and torpid in pace, this well-dressed biopic, mainly about the early years of its doomed protagonist. is authentically Scottish in tooth and claw, fashionably visceral in its inevitable homo-eroticism and contains some real Scottish actors near the top of its cast, notably Compston's Lord Rothwell, whose character changes bewilderingly two-thirds of the way through a draggy narrative, and Tennant, who catches the eye as a fiery John Knox.

But the film focuses heavily on its title character, a pretender to the English throne and a difficult role for the talented Roman - while Robbie's Elizabeth I (Mary's cousin) scarcely gets a look in.

Irish Ronan does assume a convincing soft Scottish accent (wouldn't she have a French one after her years at the French court?), but struggles somewhat with the mood swings of her character, from authoritative majesty, to highly-sexed woman desperate to give birth to a baby who could be the future king of England (and was); while Robbie just seems uneasily cast.

At any rate, to the story: the Earl of Lennox (Coyle) and his son Henry Darnley (Lowden) journey to Scotland, where Mary falls for the flamboyant flannel from the dashing Darnley and marries him. Henry, however, is bisexual at best (there seems little historical evidence for this, but 21st century Brit film-makers do like their gay subtext) and, having an affair with court-follower Rizzio (Cordova) cannot make love to Mary until she (literally) forces the issue.

Subsequent developments, however, conspire to make her outlook as dark as the photography of the Highland hills. The drama does pack some impact, but is too fragmented to lead to any mounting suspense.

David Quinlan

UK 2018. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by Company 3.
124 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 13 Jan 2019