“Mary Queen of Scots” is a lavish period piece starring Saoirse Ronan as the 16th-century monarch who has a claim to the English throne occupied by Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) but is having enough trouble keeping control of Scotland. The political maneuvering between Mary and Elizabeth fuels much of the plot — Liz even tries to get her own BFF, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), to marry Mary and be Liz’s puppet — but the movie is far too feminist to let a catfight be at the center of it. Additional intrigue includes Mary’s actual husband, Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden), being a lout and secret bisexual, and her courtier David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) being targeted for assassination, and Protestant blowhard John Knox (David Tennant) actively campaigning against letting a Catholic (and a WOMAN!) be in charge.
It’s the first film by acclaimed theater director Josie Rourke, whose facility with Shakespearean plots and Elizabethan language comes in handy. It’s not stodgy, though — if anything, it’s too modern in its depiction of some characters’ attitudes about sex and sexuality. The screenwriter, “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon (who also wrote “The Ides of March”), is an old pro with palace intrigue and political skulduggery; that and the fabulous costumes and wigs make this a grand but accessible historical biopic. (Bonus: You will never recover from seeing Margot Robbie in an orange fright wig and pox makeup.)
B (2 hrs., 4 min.; )