Saoirse Ronan's Queen Mary of Scotland and Margot Robbie's Queen Elizabeth I of England share only one scene in Josie Rourke's intimate, piercing, Mary Queen of Scots
Despite her power and beauty, Mary is cuckolded by Henry, betrayed by him in every other way, and beaten by him, too. Her advisers plot against her; her country's priests call her whore. Adapted by Beau Willimon from a Mary Stuart biography by John Guy, Rourke's film examines men's hostility to a woman with power. A sense of agonized inevitability grows even as Mary seems to triumph, suppressing a rebellion and bearing an heir.
It's a film of two faces, Ronan's exposed and glowing, Robbie's blotted out with mummer's makeup, its vulnerability painted over. Both leads reveal aching souls beneath the regal toughness, but only Elizabeth intuits the danger of being free, natural, girlish, sexual -- the danger of loving a man who after marriage would have to be called king.