At 16, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) is widowed and refused to remarry - instead opting to return to Scotland and take up her rightful throne as Queen of Scots. However, she soon finds herself butting heads with Elizabeth, Queen of England (Margot Robbie) and while the two monarchs regard each other with a certain respect, forces around them conspire and hatch plots to divide and conquer.
The relationship between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I is one that's been covered a number of times, all of them with varying degrees of success. It's a ripe story, one that enjoys a certain fascination with writers and actors in that it pits women leaders against one another at a time when it was certainly unlikely for two nations to be ruled by them. It's a shame, then, that while 'Mary Queen Of Scots' enjoys lush production values, a strong cast and a script by 'House of Cards' scribe Beau Willimon, it comes back with something that's serviceable more than anything else.
Saoirse Ronan is well-versed in playing leading roles, and allows the camera to take in her fierce blue eyes and all of the complex emotions that plays across them. However, the real star of the movie isn't even her - it's Margot Robbie and the textured performance she gives that stands out as more memorable than Ronan's. Through a faultless accent, layers of makeup and hair, and what seems like a deep understanding of placing veneers over your neuroses, Robbie's Elizabeth would have made for a far more fascinating character study.
Frustratingly, Willimon's script and plotting keeps the duo almost entirely separate from one another - communicating only through staid and pronounced letters between them that reveal absolutely nothing about one another, beyond a grudging respect and the power dynamics between them. As you'd expect, both queens are surrounded by men who are attempting to upend their control and seize it for themselves, with sexual relations and gender politics being the weapons of choice by all concerned.
Yet, for something as exciting and intriguing as these topics are, 'Mary Queen Of Scots' fails to deliver on the promise and instead becomes a by-the-numbers story. There's no deep, granular examination that could be classed as accurate, and Josie Rourke's direction - her first live-action movie - lacks any kind of panache or flair, beyond the vibrantly coloured costumes and production design. Rourke's theatrical background is evident, as some of the scenes feel deliberately staged rather than naturally occurring - all of which just serves to pull you out rather than draw you in.
It's a fine attempt, and the performances are strong, but 'Mary Queen Of Scots' never quite manages to be as good as it thinks it is.