Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Out Now On-Demand

Bow to no one.

Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) lead this battle-for-the-throne historical drama helmed by Josie Rourke (director of the Donmar Warehouse) and penned by Beau Willimon (House of Cards).

Leaving France and defiantly choosing not to remarry, Mary Stuart (Ronan) returns to Scotland to claim her rightful place as Queen—a role taken by the beloved Elizabeth I (Robbie).


Directed by

Written by

  • Beau Willimon
  • (based on the book 'My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots and Guilherme Scots' by John Guy)

Drama, True Story & Biography, Historical


Rating: R13 Violence, sexual violence & sex scenes


Beginning as Mary Stuart returns home to Scotland following the death of her French King husband to reclaim the throne from her formidable cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots spans the years before her ultimate imprisonment and execution: From her days giggling about sex with her gal pals, to accidentally marrying a rude gay alcoholic, right up until she finally meets Elizabeth in a washhouse full of chic gauzy linen.

Unfazed by the fact that many of these things didn’t exactly happen—or at least certainly not as they do here—director Josie Rourke sets about spinning the famous rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth into a kind of modern feminist story. Never mind that the protestant Elizabeth and Catholic Mary were fundamentally ideologically opposed political enemies vying to rule the same land. Maybe they actually wanted to be friends—if only their male advisors had allowed it!

It’s a cute, if cynical idea and, with the film based on John Guy's biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, presumably Rourke has some historical grounds for making this suggestion.

In practice, however, it just doesn’t work. Let down by a confused plot and occasionally inadvertently hilarious script, in attempting to revise notions of the pair’s relationship Rourke somehow manages to undermine any prowess these supposedly strong, tough women are apparently meant to have.

Mary’s emotions repeatedly compromise her apparent political aptitude and decision making; Elizabeth, meanwhile, is shown more-or-less throughout as an unhinged, hysterical spinster, driven increasingly mad by Mary’s beauty and motherhood.

It is unfortunate for Mary Queen of Scots that one of the best films about female rivalry in years (which also happens to be a lavish, stylised period drama), The Favourite, beat its release by just a few weeks—particularly since Mary Queen of Scots fails spectacularly at almost everything The Favourite so perfectly nails.

But most unfortunate is the fact that even a female director could not imbue this project with nuance, intrigue or even any life: instead it’s just another flat, long, forgettable period drama.



Far from a home run with some major snags including pacing and emotional detachment at the beginning of the movie, but the film still manages to resonate as a story about a woman of great power fighting to lead amongst men.

Empire (UK)


A history lesson with more fire in the belly than most. It turns out that a feminist angle really can revive the same old Tudor psychodramas, thanks in large part to Ronan and Robbie's authoritative performance.

Hollywood Reporter


Director Rourke exhibits confidence and enthusiasm in dealing with such juicy material in the company of her two outstanding young actresses.

The Guardian


Rourke and Willimon have crafted a juicy, darkly compelling drama that offers a sleek alternative to what's come before. It's hardly revolutionary or particularly revisionist but there's enough here to make it feel like a worthy endeavour nonetheless.

The Times (UK)


Rourke's greatest achievement is the performances she's coaxed out of her two lead actresses. They're so good they're like De Niro and Pacino in Heat.

Total Film (UK)


Ronan is the monarch of the lens in this feisty, feminist royal biopic, which favours queenly clashes over battlefield action.

Variety (USA)


Rourke's film feels well suited to the #MeToo moment, contrasting Mary and Elizabeth's far different strategies for maintaining what each believed to be her God-given legacy. (Graeme Tuckett)


Mary Queen of Scots is a sumptuous, bold and engrossing film. If you like your history served rare and well-spiced, you'll love it as much as I did.

NewsHub (Kate Rodger)


...the performances here - particularly from these stellar leading ladies - really are noteworthy, but is it too much to ask for a little more raw excitement and drama from Mary, Queen of Scots?