Mary Queen of Scots (2018 film)

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Mary Queen of Scots
Poster for Mary Queen of Scots, displaying the titular character with Queen Elizabeth I behind her. Both women are wearing yellow dresses against a similar background color.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJosie Rourke
Screenplay byBeau Willimon
Based onQueen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart
by John Guy
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Mathieson
Edited byChris Dickens
Music byMax Richter
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 15 November 2018 (2018-11-15) (AFI)
  • 7 December 2018 (2018-12-07) (United States)
  • 18 January 2019 (2019-01-18) (United Kingdom)
Running time
125 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$25 million[2]
Box office$46.7 million[3]

Mary Queen of Scots is a 2018 historical drama film directed by Josie Rourke (in her feature directorial debut) and with a screenplay by Beau Willimon based on John Guy's 2004 biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary, Queen of Scots, and Margot Robbie as her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, and Guy Pearce also star in supporting roles.

Mary Queen of Scots had its world premiere on closing night of AFI Fest on 15 November 2018, was released in the United States on 7 December 2018, and in the United Kingdom on 18 January 2019. The film received mixed reviews, with praise for the performances (particularly Ronan and Robbie) and costumes, but was criticised for the screenplay and several historical inaccuracies.[4] The film received three nominations at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards,[5] and two nominations, for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, at the 91st Academy Awards. For her performance, Robbie earned nominations for a SAG Award and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress.


In 1561, nineteen-year-old Mary Stuart, the Catholic queen of Scotland, returns to her home country from France following the death of her husband, Francis II of France, to take up her throne, where she is received by her half brother, the Earl of Moray. In neighbouring England, Mary's twenty-eight-year-old cousin Elizabeth is the Protestant queen of England – unmarried, childless, and threatened by Mary's potential claim to her throne. Mary dismisses the cleric John Knox from her court. A Protestant and leader of the Scottish Reformation, Knox views Mary as a danger to the kingdom's Protestant supremacy.

Seeking to weaken her cousin's threat to her sovereignty, Elizabeth arranges for Mary, whom many English Catholics regard as their rightful queen, to be married to an Englishman. She chooses Robert Dudley, whom she secretly loves; although he and Mary are unwilling, news of Elizabeth's smallpox convinces Mary to accept, provided she is named Elizabeth's heir. Reluctant to let go of Dudley, Elizabeth sends Lord Darnley to Scotland with the pretence of living under their religious freedom. Despite sensing the ulterior motive, Mary grows fond of Darnley and eventually accepts his proposal.

Mary's impending marriage causes a constitutional crisis within both realms: Elizabeth is advised to oppose the marriage for fear that Darnley, an English noble, will elevate Mary's claim to the crown; Mary's council is suspicious of Darnley, fearing an English takeover. Both kingdoms demand his return to England but Mary refuses, leading Moray to mount a rebellion against her. Mary marries Darnley, only to discover him in bed with her friend and private secretary, David Rizzio. Mary quashes the rebel forces but spares Rizzio and Moray, and demands that Darnley give her a child. When a child is conceived, Mary declares the child is "heir to Scotland and England" – offending the English.

Moray colludes with Darnley's father Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, to undermine Mary. They spread rumours that her child was illegitimately fathered by Rizzio, driving John Knox to vehemently denounce Mary as an adulteress. Fearing these accusations and the possible discovery of his homosexuality, Darnley is coerced by the underminers to join them in murdering Rizzio, and reluctantly delivers the final blow.

Discovering the plot of weakening her rule and giving Darnley more power, Mary convinces Darnley to side with her and escape with her instead, which turns out to be a ploy for her army to detain him. Mary agrees to pardon the conspirators if presented with evidence that Darnley took part. She ultimately forgives Moray, and asks Elizabeth to be her child's godmother. They agree the child is heir presumptive, despite the English court's hostility. Mary banishes Darnley but refuses to divorce him, despite the appeals of her council, which approaches her adviser and protector, the Earl of Bothwell, to have him killed.

After Darnley's murder, Mary is forced to flee without her child. Bothwell advises that her council has decided she must marry a Scotsman immediately—and that Scotsman should be Bothwell himself. Mary resists, suspecting he was involved in Darnley's murder, but after he threatens her and subsequently rapes her, she consents. This induces Knox to preach to the Scots that Mary is a "harlot" who had her husband killed, leading Moray and her court to demand her abdication. Despite her objections, Mary eventually abdicates and flees to England.

Elizabeth arranges a clandestine meeting, where Mary asks for help to take back her throne. Unable to go to war on behalf of a Catholic, Elizabeth instead promises a safe exile in England as long as Mary does not aid her enemies. Mary responds that if she does, it will only be because Elizabeth forced her to do so, and threatens that should Elizabeth murder her, she should remember that she "murdered her own sister and queen". Placing Mary under house arrest, Elizabeth receives compelling evidence that Mary conspired with her enemies to have her assassinated, and orders Mary's execution. Elizabeth laments that even if the evidence is untrue, she has to order her execution, for she has given her whole self to the throne, but fondly remembers Mary for her bravery and beauty. As Mary walks to the scaffold, a remorseful Elizabeth cries for Mary, who reveals a bright red dress, implying herself to be a martyr. In her final thoughts, Mary wishes her son James well and hopes for peace upon his reign.

A post-script notes that upon Elizabeth's death in 1603, James became the first monarch to rule both Scotland and England.


Nicola Sturgeon with the cast and crew of the film

In addition, Eileen O’Higgins, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Izuka Hoyle and Liah O'Prey are seen throughout the film as Mary's personal attendants, historically known as "The Four Marys", Mary Beaton, Mary Fleming, Mary Seton and Mary Livingston, respectively. Alex Beckett, who appears as Sir Walter Mildmay, English Chancellor of the Exchequer, died at age 35, seven months before the film's release; the film is dedicated to his memory.

The director, Josie Rourke, followed the principle of colour-blind casting.[6] The movie portrays the English ambassador to the Scottish Court, Lord Thomas Randolph, as a black man, which he was not.[7] Gemma Chan's character is Elizabeth Hardwick, who in real life was white.[8] Rourke told the L.A. Times: "I was really clear, I would not direct an all-white period drama."[7]


The film was originally planned to be a Scarlett Johansson vehicle, scheduled to begin shooting in mid-2007 on a $25–30 million budget.[9] After Johansson dropped out, the film languished in development hell for several years. On 9 August 2012, it was announced that Saoirse Ronan would play the title role of Mary Stuart.[10] It took another five years, until 21 April 2017, until it was announced that Margot Robbie was cast to play Queen Elizabeth I, and that the film was scheduled to commence principal photography in August 2017.[11] The film based on John Guy's biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots would be produced by Working Title's Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Debra Hayward, and HBI Production's James Biggam. Josie Rourke was announced to direct the film from an adapted screenplay by Beau Willimon.[11]

On 13 June 2017, Jack Lowden was announced to play Lord Darnley, while Joe Alwyn was announced to play Robert Dudley.[12][13] On 22 June 2017, it was reported that Martin Compston was cast in the film to play James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, the third husband of Stuart.[14] On 23 June 2017, German-Romanian actress Maria-Victoria Dragus had also joined the cast to play Scottish noblewoman and childhood friend of Stuart, Mary Fleming, marking her English-language debut in film, having a minor role previously in Australian teen drama Dance Academy.[15] On 17 August 2017, Brendan Coyle, David Tennant, and Guy Pearce joined the cast,[16][17] followed by Gemma Chan the next day.[18] On 22 August, Ismael Cruz Córdova was cast to play David Rizzio, Mary's close friend and confidant.[19]

Focus Features handled the domestic rights while Universal Pictures handled the international distribution. The crew on the film included Academy Award winners costume designer Alexandra Byrne, hair and make-up designer Jenny Shircore and editor Chris Dickens; Emmy Award-winning production designer James Merifield; and BAFTA Award-winning cinematographer John Mathieson.[20]

Principal photography began on 17 August 2017, in various locations around the United Kingdom, including Scotland.[21]


It had its world premiere at the closing night gala of AFI Fest on 15 November 2018 in Los Angeles, CA.[22] The film was released in the United States on 7 December 2018,[23] and in the United Kingdom on 18 January 2019.[24][25]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Historians have heavily criticised the inaccuracies of the story. Mary and Elizabeth's letters to each other are believed to have been their only sources of communication, and they are not known to have met.[26]

There have been suggestions that Mary would not have had a Scottish accent. The five-year-old Mary was sent to France, where she grew up in the French Court.[26]

Estelle Paranque, an expert on Queen Elizabeth I, told The Daily Telegraph: "It shows a friendship at first, but there was not a friendship, Elizabeth tried to be kind to her at first but Mary never saw Elizabeth as an equal. She saw her as a rival from the start."[26]


Box office[edit]

Mary Queen of Scots grossed $16.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $29.9 million in other countries, for a total worldwide gross of $46.4 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 62% based on 290 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Mary Queen of Scots delivers uneven period political thrills while offering a brilliant showcase for the talents of its well-matched leads."[27] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[28] Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film 2.5 out of 5 stars, with 38% saying they would definitely recommend it.[29]

Reviewers criticised the film's historicity, its plotting and its sex scenes. Emily Yoshida of New York magazine's Vulture site called it "a kind of nothing of a film. It's neither a rigorous history lesson nor a particularly interesting work of drama and character";[30] Shane Watson of The Telegraph called it "history porn for the Instagram generation";[31] while A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that "students of Scottish history may be surprised to learn that the fate of the nation was partly decided by an act of cunnilingus".[32]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
AACTA International Awards 14 November 2018 Best Supporting Actress Margot Robbie Nominated [33]
Academy Awards 24 February 2019 Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated [34]
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks Nominated
BAFTA Awards 10 February 2019 Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated [35]
Best Makeup and Hair Jenny Shircore Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Margot Robbie Nominated
Costume Designers Guild 19 February 2019 Excellence in Period Film Alexandra Byrne Nominated [36]
Critics' Choice Movie Awards 13 January 2019 Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated [37]
Best Hair and Makeup Mary Queen of Scots Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards 14 November 2018 Make-Up & Hair Styling Award Jenny Shircore, Sarah Kelly and Hannah Edwards Honoree [33]
Hollywood Music in Media Awards 14 November 2018 Best Original Score – Feature Film Max Richter Won [38]
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild 16 February 2019 Best Period and/or Character Hairstyling Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher Won [39]
Best Period and/or Character Make-up Jenny Shircore, Hannah Edwards, Sarah Kelly Nominated
Satellite Awards 17 February 2019 Best Motion Picture – Drama Mary Queen of Scots Nominated [40]
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Margot Robbie Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards 27 January 2019 Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated [41]


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  3. ^ a b "Mary Queen of Scots (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  4. ^ Jones, Fionnuala (20 November 2018). "This is what the critics are saying about Saoirse Ronan's new movie, Mary Queen of Scots". The Daily Edge. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  5. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2019: All the nominees". BBC News. 9 January 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  6. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (2 January 2019). "Josie Rourke: 'I was fighting to put a period in a period movie'". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b "'Mary Queen of Scots' Fact Check: Was Queen Elizabeth's Ambassador Actually Black?". TheWrap. 25 December 2018.
  8. ^ "How Do the Wokest Parts of Mary Queen of Scots Line Up With History?". Vulture. 10 December 2018.
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  10. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (9 August 2012). "Saoirse Ronan to play 'Mary Queen of Scots' in Working Title feature". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
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  12. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (13 June 2017). "Jack Lowden Joins 'Mary Queen Of Scots' Opposite Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  13. ^ Ford, Rebecca (13 June 2017). "Joe Alwyn Joins Margot Robbie in 'Mary Queen of Scots'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  14. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (22 June 2017). "Martin Compston Joins 'Mary Queen Of Scots' Opposite Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  15. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (23 June 2017). "Maria Dragus Cast In 'Mary Queen of Scots'; Ned Van Zandt Joins 'The Iron Orchard'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  16. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (17 August 2017). "Brendan Coyle Joins 'Mary Queen of Scots'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave (17 August 2017). "David Tennant, Guy Pearce Join Saoirse Ronan's 'Mary, Queen of Scots'". Variety. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  18. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (18 August 2017). "Gemma Chan Joins 'Mary Queen Of Scots' Opposite Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  19. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (22 August 2017). "Ismael Cruz Córdova Cast In 'Mary, Queen Of Scots'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
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  23. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (18 April 2018). "Focus Features' 'Mary Queen Of Scots' Scoots To December". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Mary Queen of Scots (2018)". Retrieved 3 October 2018.
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  29. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (29 December 2018). "'Aquaman' Sailing To $51M+ 2nd Weekend; $188M+ Cume Pacing Ahead Of 'Doctor Strange' & 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  30. ^ Yoshida, Emily (6 December 2018). "Mary Queen of Scots Turns Its Queen Into a Generic Underdog Figure". Vulture. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  31. ^ Watson, Shane (14 December 2018). "History porn for the Instagram generation". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  32. ^ Scott, A. O. (6 December 2018). "Mary Queen of Scots Review: Sexy, Spirited and Almost Convincing". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  33. ^ a b Kilday, Gregg (30 October 2018). "Hollywood Film Awards: 'Black Panther,' 'Incredibles 2' Among Latest Honorees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  34. ^ "Oscars 2019: The nominees in full". BBC News. 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  35. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2019: All the nominees". BBC News. 9 January 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
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  37. ^ Nordyke, Kimberly (10 December 2018). "Critics' Choice Awards: 'The Favourite' Leads With 14 Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  38. ^ "2018 HMMA Winners". Hollywood Music in Media Awards. 14 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  39. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (10 January 2019). "'Black Panther,' 'Vice,' 'American Horror Story' Nominated by Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild". Variety. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  40. ^ "2018 Nominees". International Press Academy. November 2018. Archived from the original on 29 November 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  41. ^ "SAG Award Nominations: Complete List". Variety. 12 December 2018. Retrieved 12 December 2018.

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