'Mary Queen of Scots' has sharp cast but is dull overall

The movie is about the oft-chronicled rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Liam Daniel/Focus Features/AP
From left, Ian Hart as Lord Maitland, Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart, and James McArdle as Earl of Moray in a scene from 'Mary Queen of Scots.'

One reason I’ve never been a big fan of historical biopics is because so many of them are so turgid. Despite a sharp cast and lots of stentorian speechifying, “Mary Queen of Scots” joins the ranks of the dull. It’s about the oft-chronicled rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan). Inevitably, it’s also about the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism in the Elizabethan era. Mary, being Catholic and female, has a particularly hard time here with that era’s pesky patriarchy.

In real life, Mary and Elizabeth never met, but this film, directed by Josie Rourke and written by Beau Willimon, stages numerous interactions, many of them accompanied by flaring nostrils. Robbie tries hard but is tiresomely hammy. Ronan, who seems more suited to the period, attempts a depth-charged performance and fares somewhat better. When she says, comparing herself to the childless Elizabeth, “I will be the woman she is not,” you believe it. Grade: C+ (Rated R for some violence and sexuality.)

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