The film covers the five-year period from 1561 when Mary returned from France to 1568, when she fled to England. She had been crowned Queen of Scotland at the age of one and shipped off to France where she was later married to the Dauphin who became King Francis II and she Queen of France. When Francis died, she returned to Scotland and claimed his throne. This is the point at which the film begins.
The politics of this period are exceptionally complex so the film does an excellent job of keeping them simple. Mary has a legitimate claim to the English throne.She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England and should Elizabeth I die childless, she would have a legitimate claim to the throne.
The film revolves around her efforts to have Elizabeth name her as heir to the English throne while she fights the naturally vicious politics of a catholic Queen in an increasingly rabidly Protestant country.
She marries Lord Darnley, an English noble, only to discover him in bed with her friend David Rizzio the following morning.
Generally speaking, Darnley isn’t up to much and he keeps demanding that Mary make him King. Something that she steadfastly and wisely refuses to do.
Eventually, he is done away with in pretty suspicious circumstances and Mary is forced into marriage with a Scottish nobleman. But this marriage is less successful than one with Darnley. For the most part she is more than a match for the local Scottish lords and the firebrand Protestant preacher John Knox. But she has to live by her wits and the weight of numbers is against her.
She has none of the advantages of Elizabeth, who was a Protestant Queen in a Protestant country surrounded by a loyal Protestant court intent on maintaining her in power. The chief player in this is Lord Cecil (played by Guy Pearce) and may has no one of his calibre advising her..
We see nothing of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster who was primarily responsible for Mary’s entrapment and execution. Probably a necessary economy.
The long period of Mary’s imprisonment in England is not covered in the film even though the film begins and ends with her execution. What we do know is that Elizabeth signed the death warrant.The film does not make it clear why Elizabeth did this. We see nothing of the power plays between Mary and the Spanish. There is no room in a film of this length. The film rightly focuses on the difficulties of females monarchs in a male dominated world.
Moviegoers who come to the film with little knowledge of the period will leave the film none the wiser. Those with knowledge of the period, will wonder “What was the point of all this?”
This probably highlights the problems in dealing with such a complex historical figure as Mary Queen of Scots. The film does not touch upon her upbringing in the Catholic French court. And we have no insight into what drives her as the Queen of Scotland nor in her desire to be the Queen of England. All this probably says Mary Queen of Scots is not a good subject for a film.
Probably a longer TV mini-series is what is needed.