This is one of those films that fails to be the sum of its parts. It has a high-pedigree cast, that includes Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, with David Tennant in scenery-chewing mode- and what fine scenery that is, with some gorgeous sets and lovely wide location shoots, some really fine art direction and hauntingly atmospheric music from Max Richter. It should really be something powerful, stirring, something akin to Roland Joffe’s The Mission, perhaps.
But it doesn’t really ignite, doesn’t really seize the emotive heights it should. Instead it seems to get bogged down by the minutiae of 16th Century court politics and in the end seems to just reaffirm that ages-old riff that all men are bastards, and that the world would be a better place were we led by women who did’t have to be distracted at playing men’s games in a mans world.
Or perhaps that was the whole point of the film after all, and I’m being unfair to it expecting more. Robbie’s Elizabeth I is rather ill-served in my opinion, almost rendered impotent, which is a curious spin considering some of the films made about her in the past (such as the 1998 film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, which seemed to portray an entirely different woman altogether). This film seems rather uncertain whether she and Mary are opponents or allies sharing similar problems (i.e. the men surrounding them), kindred spirits divided by the physical borders that define them. I rather suspect that history is being reshaped to reflect modern sensibilities, modern concerns- there is sex in the film, and homosexuality, and alcoholism, and a character in Mary’s court who is suspiciously transgender. Its curious also that perhaps the most interesting moment in the film, arguably its actual climax, is a meeting between the two women which never really happened.
There is plenty to admire in the film- it does indeed look ravishing and the two leads are very good (albeit Robbie rather ill-served), and the music score fits the film as well as I suspected it would having listened to the soundtrack CD some months ago. So its well worth a watch and rewards the attention its sluggish, rather dense script demands, but it never feels to match what it might have, and should have been. Not exactly a misfire, put possibly a missed opportunity.