“Mary Queen of Scots”: Beau Willimon’s Historical House of Cards

If Mary Queen of Scots plays like a couple of overheated and talky episodes of House of Cards that’s because Beau Willimon wrote the screenplay. This historical drama about how Mary Stuart of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan) and Queen Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie) moved from being frenemies to enemies is long on pageantry, eloquent barbs and dialogue, high on political maneuvering and treachery but short on battles and gore— everything that made House of Cards both good and bad.

Willemon injects a feminist slant to keep the story from devolving into what it really was— a political and religious semi civil war over whether Protestantism (Elizabeth) or Catholicism (Mary) should be the dominant religion and guiding vision of the British Empire— something a modern audience will find a tad boring.

Everything that goes wrong in Mary Queen of Scots is because male connivery is constantly interfering and overturning the sensible feminine contracts of control the two Queens are forever trying to establish. The two are always trying to cast off their male remnants and insisting on their independence and authority to govern beyond male control and advice, even when one pretender demands that the kingdom should be his by right of marriage and the performing of grand and satisfying cunnilingus on the Queen.

Historically, Mary and Elizabeth were more alike than different. Willemon introduces character contrasts to give the drama some tension and to keep Mary Queen of Scots from becoming a Royal love fest. Mary is a free spirit, sexually open, free thinking and liberal minded when it comes to accepting the competing religion and those in her court who may be LGBTQ leaning; while Elizabeth’s historically vaulted virginity is contributed to her being a bad lay, and a conservative, pox scared shrew.

It is all sumptuous and tony but too dialogue driven to be anything of interest to only the most historically inclined. It stumbles because it can only be a solid and staid Elizabethian drama rather than a full Mary Queen of Scots tragedy.

All photos and videos courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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