‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Features Unforgettable Performances From its Female Leads

Mary Queen of Scots poster

Many people, particularly on the movie’s IMDB page, have been bashing “Mary Queen of Scots” for failing to be historically accurate. But like many motion pictures which say or imply they are “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events,” this is another one which is not obliged to be restricted in its storytelling by mere facts. Indeed, this movie has been listed by the filmmakers as historical fiction which I am perfectly fine with as deals with two queens from centuries ago who had a respect for each other, but were also frightened by the other’s ability to wield power, and both had a lot of power at their disposal.

Based on the biography “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” by John Guy, this movie starts off by showing Mary’s eventual fate, something we really didn’t need to see right away. Not that it spoils anything, but it is so brief to where its brief inclusion feels unnecessary.

From there, we see Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), Queen of France, arriving in her native land of Scotland intent on reclaiming her throne there. But in this period of strife between Scotland and England, Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) holds powerful reign over both countries and is not in a hurry to surrender her power to anyone. Mary, however, sees herself more than a ruler by name, and she asserts herself in a way which threatens Elizabeth’s sovereignty and brings about a hot cauldron of rebellion and betrayal. Both women have a defiant appearance about them, but they will eventually find it difficult to keep their heads held high as treachery undoes their legacies in a way which will never be easy to repair.

“Mary Queen of Scots” gets off to a very slow start, and I found myself almost falling asleep. It is as though director Josie Rourke, the first woman ever appointed Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, worked too hard to keep things from peaking at the story’s start. But once Ronan and Robbie make their presences known to us, this movie really hits its stride as both actresses inhabit their characters in ways both fearless and stunning as each proves they are more than ready to govern a country in a way Theresa May only thinks she can.

Ronan is exhilarating to watch throughout as she makes Mary Stuart into a bold ruler who will not suffer fools in the slightest, and seeing her stare down her most loyal servants, male and female, is truly a sight to behold. It’s like her eyes are spitting out daggers to where she has to say nothing in getting her point across. Just watch her scenes with Jack Lowden who plays Mary’s second husband, Lord Damley, who woos her in a way which would have earned this movie an NC-17 just a few years ago. But just as Lord Damley thinks he is the one in power, Mary emasculates him to where he is of little use other than impregnating her and giving an heir to the throne. Ronan stares Lowden down with what seems like little effort, and you have to give Lowden credit for playing a man who is so out of his depth in the monarchy.

Robbie came out of nowhere like a firebolt with her breakthrough performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and she continues to wow us with one great performance after another in movies like “I, Tonya.” In this movie, she has an especially big challenge as Queen Elizabeth I is a historical character who has been played by many actresses over the years in various movies. We could spend our time comparing her performance to those given by Cate Blanchet and Dame Judi Dench among others, but n the end she more than makes this role her own. Even as she shows the power Elizabeth has all those around her, the actress is unafraid to show us this queen’s vulnerabilities which do not end with an almost deadly bout with smallpox. Seeing all those pox marks on her face succeeded in bringing back a lot of bad memories for me, and I have to give the makeup artists high praise as a result.

In real life, Mary and Elizabeth never met face to face, but the thought of them in a room together is highly intriguing. What would they talk about? Can’t they relate to one another in a way they cannot with others? The ideas abound, and what results here is a riveting scene between Ronan and Robbie as their characters strive to assert a power they see as being given to them without question. These two actresses do some of their best work yet here, and seeing them face off and hold their own results in one of the strongest pieces of acting I have seen in a 2018 movie.

Both Mary and Elizabeth respected and were frightened by one another. It’s tragic they could not become better friends as they were one and the same; female leaders who ruled in a time when the thought of a woman commanding such a power was something were too easily frightened by. The level of testosterone surrounding them did not stop them in their tracks, but it is clear how one queen fared better than the other.

“Mary Queen of Scots” thrives on the performances of Ronan and Robbie. The story is at times a bit hard to follow as the politics of the time are not always made clear, but things do improve as the movie goes on. Rourke does a strong job of bringing you right back to the year 1569, and there’s an excellent film score composed by Max Richter which heightens the visceral emotions on display. It’s also great to see actors like Guy Pearce and David Tennant sink so deep into their roles to where they almost completely unrecognizable. Of course, a lot of that is due to an abundance of hair they have on their bodies. What results is not quite a masterpiece, but a powerful motion picture which showcases the amazing talents of its two female leads even as takes liberties with history.

It’s sad to see things have not changed over time. Even now, female politicians still get done in by innuendos (a.k.a. fake news) about their records and accomplishments. But coming out of this movie, I’m fairly certain neither Mary or Elizabeth would have made the mistake of using a private email server in the same way Ivanka Trump did. Again, a lot of that is due to Ronan’s and Robbie’s powerful work.

* * * out of * * * *

Advertisements

Former ‘Dr. Who’ Actor David Tennant on Portraying a Psychopath in ‘Bad Samaritan’

Bad Samaritan David Tennant

We know him best for playing the Tenth Doctor on the never-ending BBC television series “Dr. Who,” and for playing the sociopathic Kilgrave on Netflix’s “Jessica Jones.” Now in “Bad Samaritan,” David Tennant plays Cale Erendreich, a far more psychotic character than any he has played in recent years. When we first lay eyes on Cale, he is incredibly rude to a pair of valets at a local Italian restaurant. When he hands the keys to his Maserati over to them, he makes it clear his car is not be messed with or smoked in, and this leads the valets to invade his house and rob him, but they soon discover Cale has a woman chained up in his office. From there, we learn just how screwed up on an individual Cale is as this particular victim clearly is not his first, and he even tells her at one point, “You have earned the next stage in your evolution.”

Watching Tennant in “Bad Samaritan” reminded me of Ben Kingsley’s performance as Don Logan in “Sexy Beast.” As Don Logan, Kingsley gave us a character who truly was the anti-Gandhi and, in the process, he gave us one of the greatest and most fearsome villains the world of cinema has ever seen. In an interview, Kingsley talked about how he played the wound of the character as this was the thing which gave Don Logan the most ferocity. Hearing him say this remains fascinating to me to this very day as it gave me a stronger idea of how to play a villain in a movie or a play.

When Tennant appeared at the “Bad Samaritan” press day at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, I got to ask him what he felt Cale’s deepest wound was. His answer showed just how much research he did on this character and of how complex Cale is.

David Tennant: Well Cale certainly doesn’t know. A lack of self-awareness is probably right up there. Obviously, there is a lot of damage in his background and a lot of it, I’m sure, goes back to his parents and upbringing. Doesn’t it always? I think he’s a broken human being who doesn’t realize he is. He’s fatally damaged and believes he’s the only one who isn’t, so I suppose it’s that. It’s the gap between where he really sits in society and where he believes he sits in society I guess.

It is never enough to play a villainous character who revels in being so evil as it does nothing but make such an antagonist so one-dimensional and infinitely boring. Thank goodness we have actors like Tennant who are eager to explore the dark side of humanity to where they can give audiences a villain who is never easily forgotten.

Be sure to check out “Bad Samaritan” which is now playing in theaters everywhere.
BS_KA_r5v1 JPEG

Click here to check out my interview with Dean Devlin, the director of “Bad Samaritan.”

 

Exclusive Video Interview: Dean Devlin Talks About the Making of ‘Bad Samaritan’

Bad Samaritan

With Roland Emmerich, he helped bring “Independence Day,” “Godzilla” and “The Patriot” to the silver screen. In 2017, he struck out on his own and made his directorial debut with the disaster film “Geostorm.” Now filmmaker Dean Devlin follows that up with his sophomore directorial effort, a horror thriller named “Bad Samaritan” which was written by Brandon Boyce (“Apt Pupil”) and stars former “Dr. Who” actor David Tennant, Robert Sheehan and Carlito Olivero. Whereas “Geostorm” was a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, “Bad Samaritan” sees Devlin taking the independent film route to create his most intimate motion picture yet.

We get introduced to Sean Falco (Sheehan), an aspiring photographer who works as a valet with longtime friend Derek Sandoval (Olivero) at a local Italian restaurant. What his employers do not know, however, is Sean and Derek have more on their minds than parking cars. Once customers give them their keys, they drive out to their homes to burglarize them, and among the items they abscond with is a diamond ring which Sean gives to his girlfriend, Riley (Jacqueline Byers). But one night, when Sean breaks into the home of an especially rude customer, Cale Erendreich (Tennant), he discovers a woman chained to a chair. From there, it becomes a cat and mouse game as Sean tries to find a way to save her without getting arrested as a thief in the process.

I was lucky enough to speak with Devlin at the London Hotel in Los Angeles, California where he was doing press for “Bad Samaritan.” Devlin talked about how making this movie reminded him of why he got into filmmaking in the first place, the twisted psychology of Tennant’s character, what made him especially interested in working with Boyce, and of the advantages he had in shooting the film in Portland, Oregon.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to catch “Bad Samaritan” which arrives in theaters on May 4th.