When You Know The Plot Only The Characters Are Left #filmreview #maryqueenofscots

There are some historical tales that have been fairly beaten to death, the world wars to take two examples. The destructive disintegration of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary of Scotland is another. So the writer director is rather stuck with the plot – spoiler alert, one Queen dies – and the time line and all that good stuff so, in order to make his project fly he must:-

1. Find an unknown twist, or make one up

2. Cast some fabulous actors to add depth to the study in female fortitude  and fury

3. Make it a sumptuous piece of cinematography, stunning the eye

4. Add in some touches that make it more ‘real’ of the time than in the past, including making it more gory, gritty and grim.

So the latest offering tries, oh how it tries, to nail these four tropes.

We get a meeting between the Queens after Mary is exiled and given sanctuary in England. Apparently there are no records of this and while we can’t say it didn’t happen, like we can’t say Donald Trump is truly the devil’s spawn or that Tony Blair is really a polibot, controlled by alien forces, it is probably unlikely despite wanting it to be true. A lot hangs on this meet up, it’s foreshadowed pretty much every twenty minutes and seems decisive in a ho-hummish way when it does happen. But in and of itself it doesn’t justify the two hours on film.

Saoirse Rohan and Margot Robbie are both marvellous actors. They acted Ms Knightly who I reviewed last week into a cocked hat. Robbie was, to my eye, the real star which was a bit of a surprise because Rohan is a screen delight every time I’ve seen her. I do have quibbles (come on, this is me, when don’t I quibble?). Why are their teeth treated as sacred cows? Robbie is a prosthetic joy with her beaky nose and scabby face as real to me as it could be but everyone’s teeth were straight out of the Californian Orthodontist’s playbook. Why? They’d be a right old mishmash in real life, given the time and likely diet of the Royals. And the period that passes is over 25 years yet Rohan ages not a minute whereas Robbie deteriorates rapidly. Was that a metaphor or some such? Buggered if I know.

The cinematography was splendid, the usual travelogue-style encouraging you to visit the Highlands. Mind you, with all the outdoor scenes, there wasn’t a midge in sight which makes me even more certain that they are genetically designed only to bite the English. Come on, it’s not just about rolling wildernesses and stunning lochs. Pretty all the time doesn’t cut it. Maybe it’s like the teeth thing.

Otherwise there was gore, some violent sex, some perfunctory and artistically shot buggery. Pretty much standard for a 15 cert these days. All of it unnecessary, of course but, hey ho, if Game of Thrones can, why not the mainstream cinema?

Now I did have some extensive and expensive dental work earlier in the day so with a mouth full of sutures and a coppery tang to all I ate – note to self: don’t suck pennies and eat salted caramel ice cream, it just doesn’t fly – I may have had a bit of a jaundiced eye. But really this was a pleasant rehash showcasing some great talent at work. The trouble is it’s a bit like watching a top quality plasterer redo your kitchen. All the skill in the world can’t make up for the lack of intrigue.

In Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk last year, there was not a lot of a new story, but what he did was find a new human angle and focused on that. He won plaudits from me by centring on individuals who weren’t famous, bit players really. Why not do that with the Mary-Elizabeth falling out? Why not take Mary’s step-brother James and look at these events through his eyes and not hers? There’s a tonne of political intrigue there. Just a thought.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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24 Responses to When You Know The Plot Only The Characters Are Left #filmreview #maryqueenofscots

  1. Mary Smith says:

    When I first read about this film I wanted to see it but since then the hype around it has turned me off completely – and I hate gory bits. I don’t think I’m going to bother. I know the story and I suspect if I did go now I’d simply be fixated on those teeth! And midges do bite us Scots as well as the English, the Americans, German and anyone at all really. They’re not fussy. Probably why the Highlands are relatively unpopulated compared to the cities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pjlazos says:

    Agree. The story fell flat for me, despite all the yearning. Although I really never focused on the teeth. :0)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trifflepudling says:

    I hereby challenge you to write said screenplay!!
    Enjoyed the review but didn’t plan to see the film. Saoirse Ronan is great, isn’t she – her ‘The Lovely Bones’ performance was quite astonishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ritu says:

    😊 Sounds like a better watch that last weeks one definitely!


  5. Ritu says:

    😊 Sounds like a better watch that last weeks one definitely!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I saw The Favourite and didn’t see the point of it at all and as it seems British cinema is on a Queen kick, I’ll give this one a miss also. My understanding of history is the two never met as Elizabeth refused to do so. I reckon the viewpoint of James, Mary’s son and Elizabeth’s successor would be a grand take….. especially as he was magnificently unattractive – teeth and all 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I loved the observation about the teeth being too perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Always love your reviews, Geoff. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Charli Mills says:

    Perhaps this could be a new genre — “female fortitude and fury.” If so, there are so many other historical stories to write than the ones that keep getting re-covered. Good points about how they have to be better than their predecessors. Oh, the California teeth drive me crazy. Everyone looks like they have ivory dentures, And good travel tip to know about the midges. Explains why my ancestors left. That or the English… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. arlingwoman says:

    I like the idea of filming from a different point of view. Perhaps you should work on that script! It’s become very clear to me (and I was trained as a historian) that much that’s accepted was just written by the folks with the power to promulgate it. There’s a lot that could be rewritten or enlightened, broadened, or just flipped on its head. Our Civil War, for instance, tends to be recorded in battles, personalities of generals, and arrows on maps. And yet, well into the 1980’s you could see Sherman’s march to the sea from the air. Think of the level of destruction and the impact. A friend of mine’s Master’s thesis was published years ago, called Lincoln’s Springfield in the Civil War and it was the first time I’d read about the droves of homeless women and children whose husbands had gone into the army leaving them without support, not to mention all the other social upheaval just in the confines of a small state capital. Most of history just needs another eye. It hasn’t all been written. Not to mention it’s grabbing people by the throat as I write…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I watch many a film/programme & it’s the teeth I always notice to be wrong with the times or lifestyle. It annoys me because with all the fabulous makeup & research which goes into making these things, you’d think they’d pop in a few bad, decayed pegs here & there

    Liked by 1 person

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