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Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

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Thomas Imbach’s adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s book on the much discussed historical figure is, in the end, a failure, but not one that need be thrown on the rubbish pile next to something like Showtime’s show The Tudors.

Compared the that insult on history, this looks like a masterpiece. It takes care and time to tell a difficult and conflicting story and tries its hardest to get into the head of its puzzling central character instead of cutting to sex scenes. Imbach, using a considered and sometimes documentary-like handheld aesthetic, probes behind the title Mary Queen of Scots in order to throw some light on her thoughts, desires and actions.

It doesn’t quite achieve this task and I fear Mary may seem even more opaque to viewers after the film than before it. But having said that, there is an arresting immediacy to the non-fussy dialogue and well-pitched performances.

The film examines Mary’s experience becoming the person we think we know, from youth to bitter end. We see her spending her childhood in France. She’s destined to become their Queen. However, due to a series of tragic events, including the death of her husband, she is forced to return to war-torn Scotland. Elizabeth is on the throne. We watch Mary, beautifully played by Camille Rutherford (who some may recognise from Blue is the Warmest Colour) marry, have children and start travelling down the doomed path that will eventually lead to her execution.

The promotional artwork for the film in the UK intuitively, though perhaps misguidedly, tries to build a connection between this production and the 2013 BBC/Starz series The White Queen. It does indeed share a cast member, Aneurin Barnard (recently also seen in ITV’s Cilla), though such a connection may disappoint viewers. It’s set nearly 100 years after the events in The White Queen and is more of a learned and less hysterical account of history, well-crafted as that series might have been. It also, as previously intimated, lacks the softcore-porn factor that many have come to expect in historical drama. Of course, all this is not necessarily a failing of the film itself or those involved and some viewers may be pleasantly surprised by its restraint and eye for detail. This isn’t a great film, but if you are interested in the period or the historical figures involved it’s worth a watch.  

Mary Queen of Scots (2013), directed by Thomas Imbach, is released in the UK by Metrodome Distribution, Certificate 12. The DVD and digital download will be released on October 27. Watch the trailer below:


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