But How Gay is ‘Mary Queen of Scots’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Mary Queen of Scots? It’s a biographical film about…who else? Queen Elizabeth I. I kid, I kid, although she is there. It’s actually about the Scottish queen Mary, who returns to her home country from France with a hefty claim to the English throne. Elizabeth decidedly does not stan that, and thus tries repeatedly to delegitimize Mary, from attempting to get her to marry Elizabeth’s lover, to inciting rebellion in Scotland against her. Ultimately, the two do bond, but it’s too late: The men who have manipulated them against each other take power, and they cannot save each other.

There’s also a lot of great costumes. If you’re just here for that. Which is totally understandable.

Who’s in it? Saoirse Ronan plays Mary, and while she’s formidable, I’ll admit it’s not the finest work of her career. Both Lady Bird and Brooklyn are a better showcase for her; they’re both period pieces, but not in the way we normally think of period, with the gigantic dresses and the hefty accents. All the accoutrements weigh down the perfectly quiet, precise work that Ronan is known for.

Faring much better is Margot Robbie as Elizabeth, who thrives in Elizabeth’s heavy makeup and gigantic gowns. Her performance is assisted by the fact that she’s on screen less, making every scene more impactful. When she’s not there, you spend most of the time wishing she would return. Guy Pearce, Joe Alwyn, and David Tennant round out the ensemble, alongside, somewhat surprisingly, some actors of color (Adrian Lester, Gemma Chan, and Ismael Cruz Córdova). The choice to cast anachronistically and diversify the ensemble is only odd because so many period pieces don’t — though we’d much prefer if this becomes the norm. It’s a surprise, and a refreshing one.

Why should I see it? Do you love a big ol’ period piece? You’ll love this! Mary Queen of Scots is a spectacle first and foremost, though director Josie Rourke and writer Beau Willimon do effectively tell a story about the ways in which powerful, intelligent women were ruined by the idiotic choices of men around them. It’s a bit deeper than you’d expect, although the script itself is a little too wonky (Willimon’s House of Cards experience shines through in all the wrong ways) to be that effective.

But how gay is it? Mary Queen of Scots may not be a very good movie, but credit where it’s due: It’s a pretty gay one! Córdova plays David Riccio, a friend and counselor of Mary’s who enjoys dressing up in drag and the company of other men. He also winds up in bed with — spoiler alert for, uh, history — Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley. Which apparently has basis in fact! Mary is generally very cool with all this. LGBTQ+ ally Mary Queen of Scots! Who knew!

Will this movie get any major Oscar play? I’d bet on Costume Design and Hair/Makeup nominations, but that’s about it. It largely skipped the festival circuit this fall, only finally debuting at AFI Fest in Los Angeles (where I saw it in November). Occasionally, a movie can debut that late and still make a splash. Black Swan did in 2010! But it’s rare, and Mary Queen of Scots isn’t nearly as impressive as Black Swan, to say the least.

Mary Queen of Scots is in theaters now.

Tags: Film
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