"Mary Queen of Scots" is more traditional in its approach to its royal subject matter. The 16th-century tale stars Saoirse Ronan in the title role and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I and explores their testy relationship and Mary's attempts to overthrow Elizabeth. In my opinion, Mary Queen of Scots is the polite, BBC-polished cousin to The Favourite. It wants to be just as nasty but thinks that'd keep it from prestige.
Where "The Favourite" pointedly avoids the stuffiness typical of period pieces and follows a blueprint that translates easily to any office or friendship situation, "Mary Queen of Scots" feels like sitting through a history lesson, and not a particularly enlightening one. It comes alive when the fireworks between Mary and Liz finally explode towards the second half, but it's a long time coming, and the ride is a bumpy one.
The problem here is that the story tries to cover so much ground and it feels very much like an entire season (or two) of a series condensed into two hours. In the hands of a veteran director, this might be manageable, but rookie Josie Rourke is not up to the task. The editing is flat-out atrocious, cutting abruptly at the oddest of times between tonally different scenes and leaving the viewer confused and unable to transition easily. Almost no section of the film gets the proper attention and I found it very difficult to connect with anyone emotionally.
It’s a tragedy that this intriguing tale of gender politics, treachery, and a timeless battle for supremacy by denominations within the Christian faith had two fantastic actresses wasted on a messy production. The key to this film and "The Favourite" is in their approach. "The Favourite" crackles because it's a soapy story that's fun to roll around in, while "Mary Queen of Scots" has a handsome look, but feels like it belongs on a shelf inside a library, collecting dust. I'm going to give "Mary Queen of Scots" a 5 out of 10.