Even 5 Years Later, Mary Queen of Scots Is a Historical Drama That Rules 

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as opposing monarchs.

On December 7, 2018, Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots arrived in theaters with Saoirse Ronan playing the title monarch and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. 

In addition to the stunning performances of these two actresses, the film rewrote one of history’s most dramatic tales in a striking new way. When it came out, The Playlist wrote, Mary Queen of Scots “is no staid, stuffy period drama…Instead, this is a vital film, whose lace-trimmed bosom heaves with life.” Recently, Entertainment Weekly named it one of the 15 best movies about British royalty.

Watch Mary Queen of Scots now on Apple TV or Amazon.

The official trailer for Mary Queen of Scots

After years of planning, the production company Working Title found the right team to recreate the story of the heroic queen when they hired Josie Rourke to direct the film in 2017. Although this would be her first feature film, Rourke already had a formidable reputation in theater as the director of the innovative Donmar Warehouse. Working from John Guy’s biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, Rourke contacted screenwriter Beau Willimon to bring a new sensibility to the story. “He really understands how to make politics vivid and dramatic,” Rourke told Collider. “I wanted to take these women seriously as politicians and think about their leadership and the cost of power.”

Josie Rourke with Margot Robbie and Joe Alwyn on the set of Mary Queen of Scots

In reimagining the world of Elizabeth and Mary, Rourke took a fresh approach to casting as well. Borrowing from the practices of contemporary theater, Rourke consciously chose actors who reflected the complexity of modern Britain to capture the nation’s history. “I was not going to direct an all-white period drama,” Rourke told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s not a thing that I do in theater and I don’t want to do it in film.” The film’s vision of history, according to The Wrap, “shows a heightened sense of awareness and creates a more realistic world.”

For many, Rourke’s novel approach to history made her film new and refreshing. “What keeps the film from feeling like period-piece amber…is the keenly feminist sensibility of first-time director Josie Rourke…and the fierce charisma and complicated humanity of its two leads,” wrote Entertainment Weekly. In appreciating the real difficulties faced by these two dynamic women to maintain their power in a male-dominated world, Rourke paved the way for two extraordinary performances. As The Wrap wrote, “Bow down to Ronan and Robbie for taking two legendarily complex characters, who have been reborn countless times in film and television, and completely owning both roles.”