Mary Queen of Scots Parent Guide
Not even a strong performance by Saoirse Ronan can save this poorly written, sexually disturbing, pseudo-historical film.
Parent Movie Review
Mary, Queen of Scots is a polarizing figure for history buffs. Born a Roman Catholic heir to the throne of Protestant Scotland, widowed after the death of the French king at age 18, she returned to Scotland to rule. Her reign was turbulent, with two troubled marriages, a murdered husband, and a popular revolt which forced her to flee to England and rely on the mercy of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Found guilty of plotting to overthrow Elizabeth and seize the English throne, Mary was beheaded at age 44. But Mary had the final victory: her son was named heir to the childless English queen, and upon Elizabeth’s death, James VI of Scotland united both realms and became James I of what would henceforth be known as Great Britain: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
History fans have long been divided about the circumstances of Mary’s life. Was she involved in the plot to murder her husband, Henry Darnley? Did she really conspire to usurp Elizabeth’s throne or was she framed? Mary Queen of Scots doesn’t bother with the niceties of historical debate or accuracy: it is firmly on Mary’s side. In this film, Mary (played brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan) is a bold, visionary leader who is thwarted at every turn by designing, disloyal and ambitious men. Her belief in religious tolerance is thwarted by fanatical anti-Catholic clergyman John Knox (David Tennant) and her unassailable right to the throne is undercut by the treachery of her illegitimate half-brother, James, Earl of Moray (David McCardle). To make matters worse, her attempts to develop a sisterhood of monarchs with Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) are thwarted by Protestant courtiers and the English queen’s own indecision, insecurity, and jealousy. Clearly, Elizabeth isn’t “woke” enough to see through male machinations and bond with her forward-seeing cousin on the neighboring throne.
Aside from the absurd levels of “presentism” in this movie, its most egregious flaw is its depiction of Queen Elizabeth I. Whether you are on Team Mary or Team Elizabeth, there is no denying that Elizabeth was a shrewd and wily monarch who skillfully manipulated both her court and the rest of Europe as she consolidated her hold on power and stabilized England after the upheavals of the Reformation. However, the screenwriters have ignored the historical record and created an Elizabeth who sounds like a 13-year-old fan girl, mawkishly maundering on and on about Mary’s beauty and vitality and power. As one puerile line after another came out of Elizabeth’s mouth, I began rolling my eyes, suppressing derisive laughter, and restraining my desire to throw my notebook at the screen.
On top of its annoying script, Mary Queen of Scots is loaded with disturbing content. There is some violence, although aside from one brutal murder, it is much less gory than it could be. The most unsettling aspect of this movie is its sexual content. On one occasion, Mary has a sexual encounter with her fiancé, which cannot be described in detail on a family website. She remains clothed but the activity is clear and she climaxes on screen. This is the only sexual activity which Mary enjoys. Further sexual contact with her husband involves hostility, pain and demeaning treatment. Following one act, we see Mary curled up in a ball on her bed, asking her ladies in waiting to pray for her. Her third marriage, which is forced upon her, fares no better. When she capitulates and agrees to marry Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston), he demands a sexual encounter with the unwilling queen. We see him on top of her, his buttocks briefly visible, and a look of tight-lipped anguish on Mary’s face.
Normally I would be frustrated by a Restricted movie which, like this one, could have achieved a PG-13 rating with judicious editing. But in this case the Restricted rating is a boon. By reducing the size of the potential audience for Mary Queen of Scots, it spares many potential moviegoers from sitting through this absolutely appalling piece of pseudo-historical trash.Directed by Josie Rourke. Starring Margot Robbie, Gemma Chan, and Saoirse Ronan. Running time: 124 minutes. Theatrical release December 25, 2018. Updated December 22, 2018
Watch the trailer for Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots
Rating & Content Info
Why is Mary Queen of Scots rated R? Mary Queen of Scots is rated R by the MPAA for some violence and sexuality
Violence There is a brief battle scene involving firearms, swords and pikes. There are no graphic injuries or deaths. A man is stabbed to death by multiple assailants in front of Mary, who is prevented from helping him when a man threatens to stab her pregnant abdomen. Blood is streaming all over his chest, soaking through his shirt. There is blood on his face and blood spattered on Mary. A maid is shown trying to scrub the blood out of the floor. An explosion is set off in a house, which causes a fire. When the target of the blast escapes, he is strangled. Mary is beheaded: we see her walk to the execution block but the swing of the blade is not shown. A woman is forced to leave her young child: we hear him crying as she leaves.
Sexual Content:Mary discusses her first husband’s inability to consummate their marriage. Queens are undressed down to their shifts by their ladies in waiting. Second husband Henry Darnley performs a sexual act on Mary that cannot be described in a family website – her clothing remains on, but the activity is very clear and she climaxes on screen. Two men are shown in the same bed in the morning: bare buttocks are briefly seen Two men kiss briefly. Mary undoes Darnley’s clothes, straddles him, and repeatedly slaps Darnley to get him sexually aroused. She has a demeaning sexual experience with him. Mary is coerced into agreeing to marry Bothwell: he insists she sleep with him and forces himself on her. Her distaste and misery are visible. Her dress remains on; his buttocks are briefly visible as he lies on top of her. Mary is shown giving birth: she is clothed, but plenty of blood is seen. Menstrual blood is seen on Mary’s shift: her thighs are shown as one of her maids washes them clean.
Profanity: No profanity noted but there are references to sexual activity and plenty of name-calling (harlot, strumpet, sodomite, cuckold, papist, drunkard, etc).
Alcohol / Drug Use: Alcohol is consumed at meals. A major character gets drunk at his wedding reception and on other occasions.
Page last updated December 22, 2018
Mary Queen of Scots Parents' Guide
Mary Queen of Scots has been criticized for being historically inaccurate. How do you know if any presentation of historical material is accurate? How can you tell if sources are reliable? Why is it important to understand history?
Read books about Mary Queen of Scots
If you want to learn more about Mary, try Bittersweet Within My Heart: The Love Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots. Edited by Robin Bell, this is a collection of poems written by Mary to her lovers, husbands, and Elizabeth I.
Biographer Jane Dunn has written Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens which covers the intertwined lives of the two monarchs.
Did Mary conspire in Darnley’s death? Author Alison Weird has done the research and proposes an answer in Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley.
Do you wonder what happened to Mary’s son, James? Check out James I: Scotland’s King of England by John Matusiak to learn more.
Related home video titles:
Elizabeth I is a towering historical figure whose life has been turned into books and films on multiple occasions. Cate Blanchett stars as the “Virgin Queen” in Elizabeth the Golden Age.
The Tudor dynasty was a hotbed of intrigue. A Man for All Seasons tells the story of Sir Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor to Elizabeth I’s father, King Henry VIII.
For a more current take on the British royal family, The Queen features Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II. The King’s Speech tells the story of Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, who was known as Albert, Duke of York before his ascension to the throne.