History paints them as fierce rivals. Mary Queen of Scots paints Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and her cousin, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), as frenemies hobbled by the cruelty of men in a conflict that comes to threaten Elizabeth's crown. Four takes on the film, which carries a 74% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes:
- "For intrigue, rivalry, betrayal and bloodshed, Mary's story is hard to beat—and often hard to follow." Good thing for "Ronan, as well as Margot Robbie in an arresting turn as a wretched but wily Elizabeth, who keeps us watching even as the twists in Mary's narrative become increasingly, almost maddeningly complicated," writes Rafer Guzmán at Newsday, giving the "handsome" film 3 stars out of 4.
- AO Scott calls it "consistently interesting even if it's not always convincing." But "there is enlightenment as well as pleasure to be found in the full and complicated sexuality of the film's characters," Scott writes at the New York Times, noting "students of Scottish history may be surprised to learn that the fate of the nation was partly decided by an act of cunnilingus."
- First-time film director Josie Rourke gets high praise from Richard Lawson. "Placing her actors and guiding their light with gorgeous results," she "does enough to both honor and reshape the hallowed mold to keep things interesting," he writes at Vanity Fair. Ronan is equally impressive, giving "a commanding, expressive physical performance." "Robbie is a bit wobblier, if only because she seems to have trouble with her accent."
- Monica Castillo gives Robbie higher marks, saying she "plays the paranoid and tortured queen well, using a tense, nervous energy against Ronan's cool and cutting performance." Writing at RogerEbert.com, she also compliments the "oil painting-like cinematography" and "regal costumes." She concludes Mary Queen of Scots is "entertaining" even if "it doesn't always work."
(Ronan also impressed in 2017's Lady Bird