In recent decades, royal dramas have tended to involve extra-marital affairs, divorces or an incorrect curtsy. Back in the 16th century, one monarch actually killed her first cousin – well, had her beheaded – to retain power. Can you imagine the headlines today?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it was a different time when Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) ruled England and Ireland, while her cousin Mary Stuart – played with a fire burning inside by three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan – reigned in Scotland. All communication between the two went through advisers and underlings, and the women’s different religions – Elizabeth was a Protestant; Mary a Catholic – put them automatically at odds.
Despite the distance – literal and spiritual – between them, you get the sense in this period drama written by House of Cards creator Beau Willimon that they would
have got along quite well. Both intelligent, strong-willed women, they commanded respect and loyalty, even from enemies, in what was very much a man’s world.
Although this is Mary’s story, both she and Elizabeth are portrayed flaws and all, rather than as virtuous heroine and scheming villain – their place in history much more complicated than that. But it is Mary who, overcoming one precarious position after another, shines brighter. (Out now) 4 stars