There will most definitely be buzz as Oscar season rolls around in regards to Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie's work in "Mary Queen of Scots." If all you do is look at their performances, the historical drama is worthy of praise. Step back, and the overall production stumbles through writing mistakes, has a drab look and a storytelling structure that puts the main event so deep into the tale it's almost an afterthought.
"Mary Queen of Scots" begins with Mary Stuart (Ronan), the widowed queen of France returning to her native Scotland. Her plan is to reclaim her rightful throne, but Scotland is now under the rule of Elizabeth I (Robbie). First-time feature film director Josie Rourke takes the script by Beau Willimon ("House of Cards") that skips through history to look at the politics, social unrest and injustice of the era.
All that is like going to a concert for a massively popular veteran band and having someone read their biography before the show starts. The one reason to see "Mary Queen of Scots" is the far-too-short sequence where Stuart and Elizabeth finally have a face-to-face encounter. It's a main event made so powerful by the two stars it could have been expanded from a few scenes into an entire movie.
Mostly, that has to do with Ronan, who at the age of 24 has already established herself as the heir to Meryl Streep. The three-time Oscar nominee established her amazing acting skills more than a decade ago with "Atonement" and has gotten better as shown in works such as "The Lovely Bones," "Hanna," "Brooklyn" and "Lady Bird."
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Ronan doesn't just play the role of Mary Stuart but dives so deeply into the character that every page of history is seen through her face, each act of betrayal comes through her eyes and each stifled attempt to claim her rightful place can be heard with each breath. What Ronan does isn't acting but capturing the soul of the character.
This is a waste when the film stumbles around with all the historical bits and pieces. It is the moments of truth Ronan shows that lifts the movie above being a standard historical drama. And that moment comes when Stuart and Elizabeth meet.
Both women fear and admire each other. Stuart and Elizabeth are different in age, self-esteem and fertility, but they are the only two people who can really say they understand what the other is going through as strong women in a male-driven world. In Robbie, Ronan gets more of an acting partner who ends up looking even better because of just sharing the screen with Ronan.
It's sad Rourke was more focused on the canvas behind the actors than focusing on the heavyweight actors performing in front of it. It didn't help that Willimon's script has too many unnecessary distractions that pull the attention away from Ronan, the only real reason to see "Mary Queen of Scots."
'MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS'
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Jack Lowden, Adrian Lester.
Director: Josie Rourke.
Rated: R for violence, sexuality.
Running time: 112 minutes.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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