The story is familiar. We’ve seen it many times on both film and TV. The queens are familiar. We’ve seen them being embodied by many actresses we love and admire. Now it’s time for Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie to play Mary and Elizabeth I in Mary, Queen of Scots. Familiarity can breed contempt. We’ve seen this before so why do we need another version? But familiarity can also help us absorb a story when we know the beats of its narrative. We can take in the performances, the costumes, the setting and not worry about following the plot. Director Josie Rourke and screenwriter Beau Willimon understand that they need to freshen up the material, give it a new spin. And so they try.
Their story concentrates squarely on Mary and starts with her return to Scotland from exile in France, threatening Elizabeth