Mary (Saoirse Ronan; Lady Bird) returns to Scotland and immediately retrieves her throne from her illegitimate half-brother, James, The Earl of Moray (James McArdle; Star Wars: The Force Awakens). This immediately angers Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie; I, Tonya) who fears Mary will take her throne. Mary also faces opposition from her own subjects as she is Roman Catholic but half her country is Protestant. Elizabeth suggests a suitor for Mary who would be sympathetic to Elizabeth but Mary rejects Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn; Operation Finale) and instead marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden; Dunkirk).
This union not only angers Elizabeth but threatens her throne. However, shortly after bearing Darnley's son, James, Darnley is murdered and fingers are pointed at Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston; Sweet Sixteen) and Mary herself. Those accusations are further fueled when less than one year later Bothwell and Mary are married, contributing to Mary's downfall. Mary is then forced to abdicate her throne to her young son and flee to England hoping Elizabeth will aid her. Instead, Elizabeth conducts her own investigation and, while she does not find Mary guilty, she imprisons Mary in England for the next nineteen years until Elizabeth has her eventually beheaded.
Ronan and Robbie are excellent in this film and even though they never actually have scenes together until the end of the film they play off each other beautifully through the script. The movie does seem to whitewash these ladies and make them more sympathetic than they may have actually been in real life. They both have a little bit of paranoia – Robbie's character more so than Ronan's – but that is to be expected considering the men they were surrounded by. However, I suspect both women were much more ruthless than they come across in this portrayal. The supporting male cast showcases these two actresses bringing out the best in them. Alwyn and Lowden are strong characters and Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) shines as Elizabeth's advisor.
The costumes are magnificent and make one just a tad bit jealous of the opulence. The scenery is also stunning and begs the audience too long for a vacation to the Northern part of Great Britain. Unfortunately, the pacing is slow and sleepy. Even the brutal stabbing scene happens so slowly it draws out the painful demise of Mary's confidant, David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova; In the Blood).
May, Queen of Scots is an entertaining movie mainly due to the fact that Ronan and Robbie shine as these two noblewomen. The film probably wouldn't have been nearly as good with other actresses playing the leads but luckily Ronan and Robbie breathe life into the dueling and conniving queens.
Yes, being a Queen in the Sixteenth century couldn't have been easy and Mary, Queen of Scots, give the audience a mere glimpse into their lives.