Mary Queen of Scots


The film The Outlaw King, released last month, ends in 1314, when Scotland secures sovereignty at the Battle of Bannockburn, with the monarch Robert I on the throne.

England formally recognized Scotland’s independence in 1328. When Robert I died the following year, his 5-year-old son David II became king, prompting the English to regain control. Balliol, son of a king preceding Robert I, was then installed a puppet king of Scotland until defeated by an anti-English army of Scots in 1371. Robert I’s grandson (Robert II) then became king, founding the House of Stuart. Robert II was succeeded by King James I, II, III, IV, and V.  James V’s only child, Mary (played by Saoirse Ronan), went to France for education and in 1558 married the Dauphin, who became King Francis II in 1559. After James V was ousted by Scottish nobles, his wife maintained regency, pending Mary’s return to Scotland in 1561 after the death of Francis II.

Mary Queen of Scots chronologically begins upon Mary’s return to a most unruly court because she is a Catholic in a land of Calvinist Protestants, led by John Knox (David Tennant). Much of the film plays out the court intrigue, involving sexual escapades of various sorts. Her main interest is in claiming title as Queen of England because she is the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (the wife of James IV and sister of Henry VIII), as the Tudors were then the reigning dynasty in England. In 1565, she marries Henry Stuart, known as Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden), Margaret Tudor’s grandson. They have a child in 1566 who later becomes Scotland’s James VI after Henry is murdered in 1567 and Mary abdicates.

Mary then flees to England, hoping to find refuge with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), whose relations with Mary have occupied much of her time in court over the past six years. But Mary is unwelcome as a threat to claim the English throne, so she is incarcerated until Elizabeth is forced to order Mary’s beheading in 1587—the film’s climax and preview.

Directed by Josie Rourke, the script is based on the book with the same title by John Guy. Titles at the end inform that Elizabeth continued to rule for many decades thereafter. When she died without an heir in 1603, James VI of Scotland was declared James I of England, and the resulting union has persisted to the present.

As with The Outlaw King, there is a lingering subtext questioning whether Scotland should return to the status as an independent country. But the main lesson is that democracy is far preferable to the endless machinations associated with monarchy, especially the mistreatment of women, even as reigning queens. MH