Mary Queen of Scots is a historical film and period piece that excels in production value, but falters when it comes to building tension. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are flawless as the titular character and her greatest rival, respectively. However, an unfocused script and a general lack of direction turn what could have been a masterpiece, into an average period film. Join us as we take a deeper dive in our review of Mary Queen of Scots.

In Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), Queen of Scots, attempts to overthrow the Queen of England, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). The film covers most of the important events that lead up to the imprisonment of Mary Stuart, along with all of the scandalous acts and war posturing that occurred between the two cousins. Ronan and Robbie play their parts to perfection, but other problems bring down production.

The film is directed by Josie Rourke, in her theatrical debut. She has plenty of experience as a director of stage production for live theater, but Mary Queen of Scots may have been too much for someone with no experience in directing major films. The final product shows just how massive this undertaking was, as the stars shine, but the direction is lacking. Scenes that should’ve been far more tense, simply fall to the wayside, while other scenes build up to what amounts to nothing.

mary queen of scots movie review

Beau Willimon, famed House of Cards writer, took on scripting duties for Mary Queen of Scots, and his experience on the Netflix series shows. The political deceit and behind the scenes drama between England and Scotland is well laid out, but in some instances it takes too long for anything to happen, and in others the film blows by what should’ve been a highlight of the film. In short, if Mary Queen of Scots had been a 13-hour Netflix series, each episode would be outstanding. However, telling a two hour story with the mindset of a 13-hour series does not work as well.

Directing and writing problems aside, the set design and costume teams were top notch. Everything feels as though you’re in 1542 Scotland and England. The costumes are extremely well-crafted, and Elizabeth’s smallpox affliction looks authentic. Visually, Mary Queen of Scots is top notch as a period piece, and will likely be in the running for costume and set design awards.

Clocking in at a fairly average two hours and four minutes, one would think Mary Queen of Scots moves at a brisk pace. However, the film runs through some of the more interesting points in Mary’s life, such as her marriage to Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) and his subsequent demise, or John Knox and his plans to revolt. Yet, it holds firmly on some of the less interesting aspects of Mary’s reign. It’s a mixed bag, but overall Mary Queen of Scots is an enjoyable period piece that should keep you entertained for the better part of two hours.

About Mary Queen of Scots

Synopsis: Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

Director: Josie Rourke

Writer: Beau Willimon

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden

Rated: R

Runtime: 2 Hours, 4 Minutes