Bookended by her beheading, the big new historical drama Mary Queen of Scots attempts to reclaim Mary Stuart (played by Saoirse Ronan) as a woke political pioneer undone by the machinations of inferior men.
It’s a noble cause somewhat sabotaged by the film’s own middlebrow, half-hearted attempts to be edgy and a virtue-signalling script that doesn’t trust audiences to intuit the #MeToo parallels of the story for themselves.
Making her directorial debut, theatre veteran Josie Rourke and screenwriter Beau Willimon, creator of the US version of House of Cards, have zeroed in on what they see as a thwarted natural alliance between Mary and Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie).
Unfortunately, their stylistically dated approach — rousing score, melodramatic performances, self-consciously fussy production design, cipher-like characters, meticulous make-up — dulls the over-stuffed tale of political intrigue that follows Mary’s return to Scotland and the fomenting distrust that her claim on the English throne inspires in both her own court and that of Elizabeth’s.
A cadre of treacherous men intent on isolating these formidable women and turning them against each other is present at every turn, something that, ironically, robs its title character of some of the agency one might have expected a revisionist take like this to have.
That may be the point, but the film’s focus on Mary and Elizabeth as two sides of the same coin — presenting the former as symbol of youthful vivacity and fertility and the latter as pox-riddled, embittered and barren — trades in the sort of gender stereotypes a film like this should surely be trying harder to subvert.
What a disappointment.