Mary Queen of Scots

Dec 26, 2018

An excellent example of historical docudrama, completely different from The Favourite.

Mary Queen of Scots

Grade: A-

Director: Josie Rourke (artistic director of London's renowned Donmar Warehouse theater company)

Screenplay: Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), based on book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” by John Guy (2004 Whitbread Prize for biography)

Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Hannah), Margot Robbie

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 4 min

By: John DeSando

If you like costume dramas but abhor their sometime surface charms, watch Mary Queen of Scots, a down and dirty and brilliant costumer about 16th-century’s Queen Mary Stuart’s (Saoirse Ronan) rise and fall. Cousin to Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), the two have an uneasy alliance against men who want to depose them and the times that wish to marginalize them but can’t. If for only helping to clarify the succession, from Henry VIII to James, the first king of England and Scotland, this docudrama is worth seeing.

Of course, history is not the main reason to spend 2 hours mucking around gloomy castles.  It’s the people! Besides the superb portrayals of the two queens by Ronan and  Robbie, a barrage of authentic looking and acting Earls and Knights gossip and plot enough to challenge the audience about allegiances. The severity of arch-conservative Scottish Catholics is no more likely to advance the cause of the Church in the eyes of the audience than contemporary pedophilic priests. In other words, the audience is immersed in the workings of English and Scottish monarchies and religion to a degree rarely seen on the screen.

Because of this authenticity, the audience cares about the players while it gets a first-rate history lesson. When Mary gets her head chopped off, she keeps her dignity and the audience, mindful of Marie Antoinette’s end, is saddened but accepting of monarchs’ cruel fates, then and now. “In my end is my beginning,” she embroidered on her estate cloth, perhaps sensing well that her son, James, would one day rule. Tough lady, great mother, exemplary acting.

"How much better everything would be, if the two queens were indeed friends! For I see now that the world is not that that we do make of it, nor yet are they most happy that continue longest in it." (Mary after the death of two Guise relatives)

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at