Just like Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots by Josie Rourke is a period drama about British queens with lots of power and lots of problems, but it is far less cinematographically impressive, less original, less funny, and less villainous.
The principal reason why you don’t start looking at your watch is called Saoirse Ronan. The great talent from Lady Bird rules as Mary Stuart, the Catholic queen of Scotland who led a tumultuous life and was beheaded in 1567.
The film pits her against Elizabeth, queen of England, only to conclude that it was a shame that the queens were pitted against each other. Margot Robbie (I, Tonya, The Wolf of Wall Street) plays the notorious Virgin Queen, but she is made up like Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and has very little to do. This is bizarre.
The script doesn’t do much more than list historical facts that are sometimes indistinguishable from fantasy. More than anything else, it is the regal mise-en-scène that raises this film above the level of an episode of the TV series The Tudors. The difference should have been much bigger.