I had high expectations going into Mary Queen of Scotts. Two of last years stand out performers coming together to tell an intriguing historical tale of cousins at odds. What could go wrong? It turns out, a lot. Mary Queen of Scotts despite being just fine is probably among my biggest disappointments of 2018.

First off, the film is prone to misleading marketing. This isn’t an Elizabeth vs Mary showdown. Rather, the narrative is majorly focused around Mary’s life and actions of her council, with Elizabeth just present and observant on the sidelines. This also results in Margot Robbie having limited screen time and not getting a lot to work with, save for a scene towards the end. This wouldn’t be a mere criticism if her character wasn’t more fleshed out and interesting than the entire supporting cast that rounds out the bulk of Mary’s story.

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I was surprised to see that Beau Willimon, the writer who infused tension and thrill into The Ides of March and the good seasons of House of Cards was responsible for this muddled screenplay. It fails to build any suspense, thrill or intrigue. It fails to make any of the supporting characters more than caricatures. This is problematic when so much of the plot is being driven by the actions of these supporting characters, yet none of them have any personality or defining traits. As a result of this, many big moments that should have had impact fall flat. Character motives aren’t always well defined which leaves you scratching your head at some plot developments.

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As for the performances, Saoirse Ronan does a fine job with the limitations of being underwritten in her own character’s story, but we’ve seen better from her. Same goes for Margot Robbie who does well with what she has but is underutilized. No one in the supporting cast is memorable or impactful. Even the usually dependable Guy Pearce is underutilized and doesn’t make any sort of impression.

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The films redeeming qualities are the fact that they can play as a handsomely mounted history lesson if nothing else. The expense isn’t spared in any of the production values. Whether in indoor council meetings or riding horses in the countryside, it’s all a pleasant sight and beautifully realized. Costumes reflect the time period well. And both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robie are delightful to watch even when not at their best. The one scene they share is a standout and would have been more impactful had we spent more time with them and their relationship been better developed.

Mary Queen of Scotts has good intentions. It’s timely in 2018 to tell a story of two female rulers, who despite their ability and right were constantly undermined by their male council. Casting two talented leads was a further success. And while the production is top notch, the film is ultimately let down by its unengaging screenplay. Mary Queen of Scotts is an underwhelming yet noble failure.


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