A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mary Queen of Scots is a period drama about Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), who returned to Scotland to rule after she was widowed at age 18. The movie reportedly contains some historical inaccuracies, but the broad strokes are based in truth and follow the tumultuous relationship between Mary and her "cousin queen" Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). Expect violent battle scenes (people fight with swords; some die), as well as an execution, a harrowing assassination via stabbing, and a rape scene. On the sex/romance front, there's kissing, implied oral sex, lovers caught in bed half-dressed, and other sex talk; a character's nipples are visible through a wet shirt. Language is mostly along the lines of "bastard" and "whore," and characters sometimes drink too much. With its feminist themes, this costume drama explores the "what ifs" of a world in which the two queens could have ruled as friends, rather than as foes controlled by the ruthless men in their courts.
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What's the story?
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is the story of 18-year-old Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), the widowed queen of France, who returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her throne despite the fact that she grew up and lived in France. Her relationship -- via letters and emissaries -- with her cousin, English queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), is fraught with demands and petitions. Elizabeth I and her court want Mary to marry, but not so well that she can challenge Elizabeth's claim (itself seemingly fragile at the time because of her lack of an heir). As Mary begins to do what she feels she must, she alienates former allies, as well as the newly powerful Protestant Church of Scotland, whose leader, John Knox (David Tennant), considers the Catholic queen a French papist who's unfit to rule.
Is it any good?
Director Josie Rourke's debut feature benefits from feminist themes, laudable performances by Ronan and Robbie, and beautiful production design, but the film is also long -- and feels it. Rourke is the artistic director of Britain's prestigious Donmar Warehouse theater, and it's easy to see the influence of the stage in Mary Queen of Scots. The movie feels Shakespearean at times, with its court intrigue, romantic dalliances, and impassioned monologues. And Ronan, one of the most versatile and gifted actresses of her generation, is well-cast and surrounded by talented supporting actors.
But good performances alone don't make a movie great. There's not much humor here, and the pacing can be so uneven that it crosses the line between contemplative into just plain slow. The big scene in the third act when the two queens finally face off is well-intentioned in its artistry, but it takes a while to get to the payoff: a heated exchange between Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom seem to wish they weren't beholden to the powerful men in their inner circles. This encounter supposedly didn't take place in real life, but it's the one scene audiences will be waiting for, so it's hard to fault Rourke for including it, imagined or no. While Mary Queen of Scots isn't nearly as memorable as The Favourite, as costume dramas go, it's worth seeing for the leading performances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Mary Queen of Scots. Were you expecting that in a historical period film? Did you know the characters' fate? If so, did that affect how you perceived their outcomes?
How is sex depicted in the story? Which relationships, if any, are based on love and respect? Which are motivated by external forces, such as power or politics?
What did you learn about Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I? Did the movie inspire you to learn more about them?
How accurate do you think the film is? Do any parts feel like they've been adjusted for modern sensibilities? Why might filmmakers not stick strictly to the facts? How could you find out more about the actual events and people portrayed in the film?
- In theaters: December 7, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2019
- Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, David Tennant
- Director: Josie Rourke
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some violence and sexuality
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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