The Blood Line

Mary, Queen Of Scots
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, James McArdle, Ismael Cruz Cordova,  Brendan Coyle  and Guy Pearce
Director: Jack Rourke
Scriptwriter: Beau Willimon from the novel “Queen of Scots: The True Story Of Mary Stuart” by Dr. John Guy
Composer: Max Richter
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Focus Features
Rating: R for violence
Running Length: 120 minutes
*Nominated for 2019 Academy Awards in Categories of “Makeup and Hair Design” and “Costume”

When a country is ruled by a monarch, whether man or woman, succession to the throne is determined by blood line to the finest degree.  Such is the case of the British monarchy, and in the case of Queen Elizabeth I, in the 1500’s, the first one who gets the throne hangs on for dear life This is the story of two rival women, who were cousins, and identified by their red hair. Elizabeth I is played by Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and Mary by Saoirse Ronan ("The Seagull"). Tragedy follows them from a young age. Mary was a widow by age 18 and Elizabeth’s mother (Anne Boleyn) was beheaded by her father, King Henry VIII. In those times, one had to check their pulse every morning. Then, there is the problem of religion and it was a problem then, too.  Elizabeth was Protestant and Mary, who had lived in France, was a Catholic, thus a Papist, and the argument between a Pope and no Pope continued. This story is told with a bit of artistic license, as the highlight of the film is a meeting between the two women, which never did happen. 

The film  begins in 1561 when Mary, known as Queen of Scotland and now a widow, comes back from France to stay with her half-brother, Moray (James McArdle). At this time, Elizabeth is now the Queen of England, but, has ho marriage or child, and succession is  important.  If Mary is to marry again and produce an heir, she would have a powerful claim to the English throne, and that is the theme of the film…. find Mary a husband and produce an heir. There are men presented to her and it is obvious that their families have the power, while Mary struggles to keep her throne. Elizabeth has a lover, but no child. When Mary finally chooses Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) she thinks she is in love. There is betrayal all around each queen and who do you trust?  Your husband? Your lover? The heads of clans or the heads of state, all with their own agenda?  The line from "Henry V"  proves true, “Uneasy is the head that wears a crown.” Mary wins the succession debate when she produces a male heir, James, and since his father is an English nobleman, the link to the English throne is strong. How does this effect the other English nobles? There are skirmishes, downright battles, and eventually that meeting between the two queens, which is played to high drama Elizabeth has to make a decision and lonely is the throne. 

The women’s hair styles give us the time span and it is no wonder that “Hair Design” received an Oscar nomination. Elizabeth I is known for her white face (illness) and Margot Robbie has to act with this make-up on.  Both women have to rely on the knowledge of their advisors which makes one wonder how many meanings the word "truth" has.  The words “to your advantage” come forth, also. Set design and costumes are well done,  and take you into the richness that is royalty.

Saoirse Ronan’s Mary is strong when she has to be, and that is most of the time.  Neither actress can reveal their true emotions because the reading of faces is essential in a royal court. So, Margot Robbie has to act with white make-up on and let her eyes do the acting, while Ronan can use facial expressions. It is only in the privacy of their bedrooms can they toss things around in frustration. This is a man’s world and they have to fight for their place. Guy Pearce as William Cecil is Elizabeth’s advisor and one can hardly recognize him in this quiet role. On the other hand, Jack Lowden as Mary’s Lord Darnley, is boisterous and a cad, which he does well. The others in the cast who portray the devious minds behind each throne, Martin Compston (Earl of Bothwell), Brendan Coyle (Earl of Lennox), James McArdle (Earl of Moray) and Ismael Cruz Cordova (David Rizzio) do well in their roles.  It is a difficult life to hold on to with both hands. 

The story of Mary, Queen of Scots is a sad one, and one wonders how her son was kept safe through the years and eventually became James I of England and Scotland. This would be a story in itself. The fascinating history of the British monarchy and how the many marriages of Henry VIII and the disposal of his wives due to his idea of succession to the throne, continues through Elizabeth’s reign and onward. The belief that God chooses the rulers and just because they are anointed to be king or queen means they can do no wrong goes back to King Saul of the Old Testament. The Israelites wanted a king and God gave them one, anointed and all, and look what happened? Another old saying comes to mind, “Power corrupts.” This film gives us another viewpoint of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Each would bend a little, but neither would give up entirely and this reverberates through history. 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner