Mary Queen of Scots Saoirse Ronan Plays Beleaguered Monarch in Flamboyant Costume Drama
Mary Stuart (1542-1587) is a tragic figure whose life story does not naturally lend itself to the big screen. After all, despite being King James V’s only legitimate offspring at the time of his death, she spent most of her childhood exiled in France and over 18 years of her adulthood imprisoned in England before being beheaded at the behest of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
But that hasn’t discouraged filmmakers from periodically taking liberties with the facts in order to mount an entertaining, if fanciful, biopic about the ill-fated aristocrat. Katharine Hepburn played Mary in a 1936 version directed by John Ford, while Vanessa Redgrave landed an Academy Award nomination for her rendition in a 1971 remake which netted a half-dozen Oscar nominations.
Now, Saoirse Ronan stars as the beleaguered queen in a visually-captivating costume drama marking the directorial debut of Josie Rourke. The movie is based on John A. Guy’s 2004 biography, “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” though the production seems less concerned with historical accuracy than with flamboyant hair and makeup.
You can forget about the book’s assertion about being “true.” For example, Mary and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) never met in real life, yet this picture’s climax revolves around their rendezvousing for a face-to-face showdown fabricated for dramatic effect. Equally disconcerting is that the film hypes female solidarity as a hot button issue, a glaring reminder of how a movie often tells you more about the period in which it was made than the one it is supposedly about.
Even if you’re inclined to forgive all of the above, perhaps the picture’s most annoying flaw is that it opens with the heroine’s execution, and is then followed by a series of flashbacks leading back to Mary’s demise. Why spoil the ending by assuming everyone in your audience is a history buff who knows how the story’s going to turn out?
An anti-climactic overindulgence in pomp and pageantry designed for fans of British royalty.
Fair (1 star) Rated R for violence and sexuality Running time: 124 minutes Production Companies: Focus Features / Working Title Films / Perfect World Pictures Studio: Focus Features
OPENING THIS WEEK Kam’s Kapsules Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun For movies opening Jan. 25, 2019
The Kid Who Would Be King (PG for action, violence, scary images, mature themes and mild epithets) Sci-fi epic adventure about a bullied British schoolboy (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who stumbles upon his destiny as a latter-day King Arthur before joining forces with Merlin the Magician (Angus Imrie) and a band of knighted classmates to defeat an evil witch (Rebecca Ferguson) bent on world domination. With Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris and Patrick Stewart.
Serenity (R for sexuality, bloody images and pervasive profanity) Suspense thriller about a fishing boat captain (Matthew McConaughey) who is asked by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) to secretly toss her abusive second husband (Jason Clarke) overboard in the middle of the ocean. Cast includes Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong and Rafael Sayegh.
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The Image Book (Unrated) Impressionistic essay, directed by the legendary Jean-Luc Godard, examining cinema’s failure to address atrocities of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Narrated by Godard and featuring archival footage of Buster Keaton. (In French, English, Arabic, Italian and German.)
In Like Flynn (R for violence, drug use and a sexual reference) Thomas Cocquerel plays Errol Flynn (1909-1959) in this biopic depicting the future matinee idol’s early adulthood in Australia spent as an adventurer, gambler, drug smuggler, gold prospector, womanizer and street fighter. With Isabel Lucas, Clive Standen, Corey Large and Nathalie Kelley.
The Invisibles (Unrated) World War II saga, set in Berlin in 1943, about four Jews (Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Aaron Altaras and Ruby O. Fee) who survived the horrors of the Holocaust by hiding in plain sight right in the Nazi capital. Support cast includes Florian Lukas, Victoria Schulz and Andreas Schmidt. (In German with subtitles.)
Jihadists (Unrated) Radical Islam around Africa is explored in this jaw-dropping documentary exposing the radical ideology indoctrinating thousands from Timbuktu to Tunisia, and from Mali to Mauritania. (In French with subtitles.)
King of Thieves (R for pervasive profanity) Michael Caine stars in this fact-based crime caper as the 77-year-old mastermind of a $200 million bank heist of cash and jewels by a gang of eccentric senior citizens. With Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone.
Polar (Unrated) Adaptation of Victor Santos’ graphic novel about a retired assassin (Mads Mikkelsen) who finds himself targeted by an army of ruthless young killers. Featuring Vanessa Hudgens, Katheryn Winnick and Johnny Knoxville.
Tito and the Birds (Unrated) Brazilian animated drama about a 10-year-old boy (Pedro Henrique) who collaborates with his exiled scientist father (Matheus Nachtergaele) to find a curefor a virus sweeping across the country which turns people to stone. Voice cast includes Marina Serretiello, Matheus Solano, Enrico Cardoso and Denise Fraga. (In Portuguese with subtitles.)