“Since 1971, filmmakers have tried to emulate the Oscar-winning success of Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson as the tragic Scottish queen and her nemesis, Elizabeth I,” writes Dalya Alberge in the Observer. “Aborted later attempts include one by Hollywood’s actress-producer Scarlett Johansson and British director Alexander Mackendrick. Two UK productions are still at early stages [including Susanne Bier’s with Saorsie Ronan in the lead], but a Swiss filmmaker has beaten them to it with a sympathetic psychological portrait set to be an art-house hit. Zurich-based Thomas Imbach has directed, produced and co-written the film, with Camille Rutherford playing Mary, which has been singled out for this season’s festivals at Locarno and Toronto.” Alberge gets a few words with David Forsyth, “senior curator at National Museums Scotland, whose exhibition on Mary is drawing record crowds… ‘In Britain, she’s divisive. Mary continues to have her supporters and detractors who take up quite polar positions. Because there are important episodes where the historical evidence is deliberately tampered with, missing or lost, people can weave their own narratives. In Europe she’s seen as possibly a Catholic martyr.'”
Imbach has adapted Stefan Zweig’s 1935 biography Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles “into an intimate and serious-minded biopic that never quite gets into the head of the protagonist,” finds Boyd van Hoeij, writing in the Hollywood Reporter. “Delicately featured French actress Camille Rutherford (Low Life) stars as the titular Queen but her delivery, in French and English, is often stilted and she struggles to illuminate the complexity of her character in the way Zweig, partly inspired by the writings of his fellow Viennese contemporary, Sigmund Freud, did. The young actress is not aided by a middling screenplay, by Imbach and Andrea Stacka (who also produced) and co-writer Eduard Habsburg, which favors historical chronology over psychological insight—though the writers do have the good sense to end the film before Mary’s famous head’s chopped off.”
“Largely raised in France, Mary marries future ruler Francis II (Sylvain Levitte, playing him as a flintlock-obsessed semi-cretin), but the sickly king dies after just 17 months on the throne,” writes Variety‘s Jay Weissberg. “Under the protective escort of the Earl of Bothwell (Sean Biggerstaff, uncomfortable), the thoroughly French Mary returns to her realm of Scotland, where it appears she’s largely left to the company of four frolicsome, nightshirt-wearing female friends as well as the singing courtier Rizzio ([Mehdi] Dehbi)…. Dehbi’s immense charm outshines everything around him; he’s also the sole actor at ease with the dialogue (in both French and English), so it’s especially unfortunate when Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley (Aneurin Barnard), has Rizzio murdered.”
Screen‘s Mark Adams finds that “while the story is littered with intrigue, romance and murder, it is rarely driven by a sense of passion or real drama.” And in the Independent, Kaleem Aftab agrees that Rutherford is the weak link here.
Update, 8/20: Here in Keyframe, Kiva Reardon writes that she finds Mary to be “beautifully rendered and utterly vacuous.”
Update, 9/2: Writing for Cinema Scope, Adam Cook argues that Mary “is clearly trying to steer clear of the traditional pitfalls of costume dramas in its understated, psychological portrait of this tortured woman, but in actively denying surface pleasures its studiedly clinical manner has no real effect—its an ostentatious act of reduction that offers nothing new in place of that which it makes a show of avoiding.”
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