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Film / Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

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Mary, Queen of Scots is a 2018 British-American historical and biographical film directed by Josie Rourke and written by Beau Willimon. It is based on the John Guy biography titled Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.

It portrays the strife between the two reigning queens on the British Isles in the late 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots of The House of Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) and the Queen of England, Elizabeth I of The House of Tudor (Margot Robbie).

The cast also includes Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Joe Alwyn as Robert Dudley, Martin Compston as James Hepburn (4th Earl of Bothwell), Brendan Coyle as Matthew Stewart (4th Earl of Lennox), David Tennant as John Knox, Gemma Chan as Elizabeth Hardwick and Guy Pearce as William Cecil.

Watch the trailer here.

See also the 1971 film of the same name.

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Mary, Queen of Scots provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – History:
    • As it often happens in film adaptations, Mary has a Scottish accent to emphasize her Scottishness. She grew up in France, and thus didn't have one.
    • Mary and Elizabeth never met in person. Here, they meet each other in a remote cottage after Mary is forced to flee from Scotland. As if to allude that historical fact, Elizabeth forbids Mary from ever speaking about this meeting to anyone else (and that if she does speak about, she'll publicly deny it).
    • A history buff pointed out the teaser tag lines "Born to fight" (Mary) and "Born to power" (Elizabeth) should be switched, as in Real Life it was the contrary: Mary was born to power and Elizabeth had to fight to become queen.
  • Battle Ballgown: While riding with her army to put down a rebellion, Mary wears a gown with a breastplate sewn to the bodice.
  • Advertisement:
  • Biopic: The film recounts the life of Mary Stuart from her return to Scotland (1561) to her death (1587).
  • Black Vikings: Several background nobles in the Scottish and English courts are portrayed by people of color, as well as a few of the named characters:
  • Bury Your Gays: David Rizzio and Lord Darnley are both brutally murdered, events that are true to history.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Endemic in the Scottish court, where almost everyone is constantly plotting to undermine or outright depose Mary. To hear Elizabeth talk, the English court isn't any better.
    • Moray is a prime example: he mounts a rebellion against Mary. He is defeated. Then, he is involved in the murder of Rizzio. Mary forgives him. Soon thereafter, he gets involved in another conspiracy with Maitland to depose Mary.
  • Costume Porn: All the English and Scottish courtiers wear gorgeous period-appropriate outfits, though Mary and Elizabeth's dresses take the cake. The film received a number of award nominations, including an Oscar, for best costume design.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The Scottish royal court is portrayed as such.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Mary's second husband Lord Darnley is portrayed as a deceptive, lying, cowardly homosexual. His lover, David Rizzio, is portrayed as the opposite and a loyal friend to Mary.
  • Easily Forgiven: Mary very quickly forgives Rizzio for sleeping with Darnley and they resume their friendship.
  • Evil Chancellor: Poor Queen Mary has several of them.
    • Her half-brother, Moray, is her councillor, but he rebels against her when she decides to marry Darnley. Later, they become reconciled, but he betrays her again.
    • Lord Maitland is another advisor who plots several schemes against her (like killing Rizzio, deposing her and crowning Darnley, killing Darnley, forcing her to marry Bothwell).
    • Bothwell seems to be her most trustful councilor, but in the end he becomes an ally of Maitland, he kills Darnley and forces Mary to marry him.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Lord Bothwell, who spends the first two acts of the film being Mary's most loyal and competent supporter, suddenly murders Lord Darnley and abducts and forces Mary to marry him in the third act.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Mary spares Moray's life during a battle. He keeps on plotting against her. When the plot fails, Mary forgives him. He gets involved in another conspiracy.
  • Fatal Flaw: Mary's is her pride. While her passion and determination gets her through some tough times and initially endears her to people, her hot-headedness, impulsivity and With Us or Against Us attitude gets her into trouble on several occasions, alienates potential allies, exacerbates animosity with her enemies and ultimately contributes to her downfall.
  • Fiery Redhead: Both Elizabeth and Mary are determined, headstrong and fierce-tempered redheads.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on a 2004 book by John Guy, My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots.
  • Foil: Mary and Elizabeth are both foils to each other. Both are reigning queens with similar personalities and goals. Elizabeth even states at one point that Mary is probably the only person in the world who understands what it's like to be in her position and vice versa. Mary insists on 'staying true to herself' and pursuing personal happiness, while Elizabeth sacrifices much of her own individual identity and desires to put her country first. Mary marries Darnley out of love for him (which she comes to regret) and has a son, while Elizabeth denies herself from marrying her love, Robert Dudley, or any man, and never has children (although she is 'married to England' with her subjects as her 'children'). Mary tends to ignore her advisors and they in turn are disloyal to her and seek to undermine or oust her, while Elizabeth listens to her advisors, albeit reluctantly at times, and they are consistently loyal and helpful.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Mary's execution is showed in the opening sequence. This is also a well known historical fact, so the audience is expected to know it.
  • Friendly Rivalry / Friendly Enemy: Elizabeth and Mary to each other much of the time, especially from Elizabeth's end. She both envies and admires Mary and agrees to shelter her in England from the rebels. After Mary is found guilty of plotting to kill her, Elizabeth is shown weeping after signing her death warrant and her voiceover indicates she'd rather not have to execute her, but has little choice.
  • Gay Best Friend: The cross-dressing, flamboyant Rizzio is portrayed as one of the girls in Mary's circle. Historians have speculated this might have been true to an extent, but takes the notion and runs with it.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Subverted for Queen Mary. Due to a series of unfortunate occurrences, the people come to view Mary as incompetent and reckless at best, and a promiscuous murderess and heretic at worst. They ultimately rise up against her while her own courtiers try to talk her into abdicating, forcing her to flee the country. However, the film shows that she herself wants only the best for Scotland and sees herself as being a 'servant' to her people.
  • The Good Chancellor: In contrast with his Scottish counterparts, William Cecil, despite vehemently disagreeing with Elizabeth on many occasions, remains completely loyal to her and always works towards securing her throne.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Elizabeth is obviously jealous of Mary's youth, beauty, marriages and motherhood. She confesses this to Mary when they finally meet, only to add that she now realizes Mary's blessings are also a curse and so she no longer envies her.
  • The High Queen: Elizabeth devotes almost her entire life to invoking this.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Though she shares similar basic facial features as her, Saoirse Ronan is considerably more beautiful than portraits of the real Mary. On the other hand, the real Mary was known for being quite tall, and at 5ft 11in (180 cm) she was unusually tall even by modern standards. Saoirse Ronan however, is only 5ft 6in (168 cm).
    • Shown most clearly when painted portraits of Mary are shown, which naturally are painted to look like Ronan rather than the real historical portraits of Mary. Ditto for Elizabeth's portraits, painted to look like Margot Robbie.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Mary calls out Bothwell for trusting Maitland and Moray with regards to the plot to murder Lord Darnley, lampshading the fact that he has spent the whole movie fighting their attempts to depose her.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a flash-forward of Mary being led to her execution before returning back to her landing in Scotland decades earlier.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: A heavily pregnant Mary attempts to defend David Rizzio from assassins by putting herself between them. This prompts one of the assassins to point a dagger at her belly, making it very clear what will happen if she refuses to step aside. This is actually Truth in Television to an extent, although in real life Mary was reportedly held at gunpoint, rather than knifepoint.
  • Lady of War: Although she doesn't herself fight, Mary leads an army by herself, stays to support her troops and is also shown firing a gun in case she needs to defend herself.
  • Large Ham: David Tennant as John Knox. He spends most of his screen-time raving to his congregation against Mary for being a whore/adulterer/papist and so many other charges he finds offensive.
  • Marry for Love: Mary marries her second husband, Lord Darnley, out of love despite the doubts of her courtiers; he claims he wants to marry her from love too and is uninterested in becoming king. Unfortunately, not long after the wedding she comes to realise he is not who she thought he was, while he makes it very clear he expects to be made King of Scotland, and the marriage ends up being a bitter failure.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Early in the film, there is attention drawn to the fact that Mary got her period early, followed by a sequence of her ladies changing her blood-stained dress and washing her.
  • Not So Different: For most of the film Elizabeth is keenly aware that she has more in common with Mary than with anyone else in the world, at one point outright calling out her Privy Council on the fact that they're asking her to depose the only other woman who knows what it feels like to be a ruling queen.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Several of Elizabeth's gowns are very elaborate and heavily-adorned with jewels and embroidery.
  • Prince Charmless: Lord Darnley initially comes across as a very charming, sensitive and intelligent young aristocrat, who is happy to be 'just' Mary's consort out of love for her and voluntarily goes down on her simply to please her, telling her not to worry about him. Mary is, understandably, quite smitten. Unfortunately, not long after they’re married, Darnley is revealed to an alcoholic coward and closeted homosexual (or possibly bisexual) who cheats on Mary with one of her best friends. He also makes it very clear he expects to be made king after all and is borderline abusive towards Mary with his horrible behaviour, the worst of which is agreeing to take part in Rizzio's murder out of jealousy and then having his pregnant wife put under house arrest. Needless to say, Mary is bitterly disappointed.
  • Properly Paranoid: The reason Elizabeth is reluctant to marry is because she fears that her husband would wrest the crown away from her and run the country into the ground, potentially even sparking civil war. Given this is exactly what happens to her Scottish counterpart Mary, it's not an unreasonable fear.
  • Regal Ringlets: Queen Elizabeth I has naturally very curly hair; after she starts going bald, she wears curly wigs to achieve this look.
  • Regal Ruff: These are worn by many English courtiers, they being very much in fashion in the late 1500's. Elizabeth in particular often wears very large ruffs in varying styles.
  • Scars Are Forever: As in real life, Elizabeth is permanently marred by scars from her smallpox infection, even after recovering from the disease. This is the reason she wore heavy white makeup at all times.
  • Screaming Birth: Downplayed when Mary gives birth to James; she screams a little bit, but not constantly.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Elizabeth and Robert Dudley are portrayed as such. They genuinely love each other, but Elizabeth can't marry him because of her station and duty to England.
  • Tag Line: Each of the first two teaser character posters has a different one. Mary has "Born to fight" and Elizabeth has "Born to power".
  • True Blue Femininity: Mary is frequently seen wearing blue and is associated with blue in some of the advertising. It makes for a striking contrast with her red hair and contrasts her with Elizabeth, who is associated more with red. Blue is also a color often associated with nobility, loneliness and sadness, underlining Mary's fate as a tragic queen surrounded by enemies. Furthermore, it helps make the ending scene of Mary's execution, where she is revealed to be wearing a red dress (the color of martyrs in Catholicism), more dramatic.
  • True Companions: Mary and her four ladies-in-waiting (all of whom were also called Mary) are depicted as such, to the point where they refuse to leave her side even when the country turns against her. Rizzio becomes this to them as well, with Mary saying he is like a "sister" to them; he's gay and so their relationship is strictly platonic, with Mary even making him her personal secretary. Unfortunately, their close friendship is seen as suspicious by others eventually leading to his murder.
  • Turbulent Priest: John Knox, head of the Protestant Church of Scotland, is a misogynistic fanatic and one of the most persistent thorns on Mary's side throughout the film. He is constantly preaching against her both because of her Catholicism and because she is a woman. He is seen constantly preaching sermons full of Malicious Slander and personal attacks on her.
  • Voiceover Letter: Both Mary and Elizabeth read letters to each other out throughout the film.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lord Bothwell completely disappears from the film after Mary is forced to abdicate and flee to England to seek Elizabeth's protection, and his fate is left completely unknownnote .
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Elizabeth sacrifices everything to be able to hold unto the throne and rule. In her monologue at the end of the film she laments that her entire being has become subsumed into the figure of "The Queen", at the cost of love, family, youth and personal freedom.
  • Young Future Famous People: King James I's birth is depicted and we see him as an infant and toddler in later parts of the film. One of the final scenes shows an adult James in Elizabeth's old throne room, with the audience being informed he became King of England following Elizabeth's death, finally uniting the country with Scotland (where he reigned as King James VI).

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