Helmed by first-time director Josie Rourke (a huge name in the world of theatre), the superb historical drama Mary Queen of Scots takes us back in time to the 16th century and one of Britain’s bloodiest chapters: the twist-packed, decades-long ‘dance’ between chalk-faced English monarch Queen Elizabeth I and her younger, increasingly ambitious Scottish cousin Mary Stuart.
Here we bring you everything you need to know about these fascinating historical figures, plus a wealth of info on the actresses so brilliantly bringing them to life.
Born 8 December 1542, Mary Stuart (also known as Mary Queen of Scots) ascended to the Scottish throne when she was just six days old.
Following her husband’s death in December 1560, Mary, now 18, returned to her homeland where she attempted to forge a working relationship with her first cousin once removed: Elizabeth, ruler of England.
In this film:
Mary Queen of Scots opens with Mary’s return to Scotland (following a brief prologue which we won’t spoil for you here). Intelligent, beautiful and confident that she has a genuine claim to the English throne, Mary reaches out to Elizabeth.
But Elizabeth – filled with resentment due to her younger cousin’s apparent superior beauty and power-hungry consorts whispering poisonous nothings in her ear – isn’t entirely ready to play happy families.
Playing Mary Queen of Scots’ flawed, thwarted title character is Saoirse Ronan – a 24-year-old Irish actress who is no stranger to awards ceremonies. Despite her tender years, she has 61 acting gongs to her name, plus three Academy Award nominations for Atonement (2007), Brooklyn (2015) and Lady Bird (2017) – where she found herself up against her current co-star Margot Robbie.
Saoirse Ronan says:
“On the surface we’re looking at two female rulers, but what we want to show is that both of them were human, and they desired human relationships and connection and somebody to understand them.
And nobody could understand Mary’s position or her situation as much as Elizabeth and vice versa.”
In real-life, Elizabeth – who was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – had only just become Queen when Mary returned from France in 1560.
Aged 27, she was nine years older than her cousin, and had already been part of a bitter battle for the crown.
In this film:
By the time she ascends to the English throne in 1559, Elizabeth is battle-hardened and hesitant. She trusts no one save her group of hand-picked advisors, all of whom urge her to be wary when her younger cousin Mary Stuart extends the hand of friendship in the early 1560s.
Despite their warnings, Elizabeth is intrigued by Mary, believing that she – and she alone – can understand what it’s like to be a queen in a king’s world, even as she knows that this curiosity could cost her everything.
Elizabeth is played in the film by Australian actress Margot Robbie. Like many antipodean thespians, Robbie got her big screen break in Neighbours, playing Donna Brown.
Her crowning performance to date is undoubtedly I, Tonya (2017), for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 2018.
Could she go one better in 2019 and take home the gong for Mary Queen Of Scots? She just might you know – you won’t be able to take your eyes off her resplendent Elizabeth.
Margot Robbie says:
“I feel like Mary and Elizabeth could have just sat down and worked it out over coffee. But all those men kept getting in their way.”