A sumptuous, sinister and sightly soft sister act, “Mary Queen of Scots” is a gorgeous moving museum of the two most famous competitive sisters in English history, if you don’t count Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

Like everything else in royalty and politics, it was mostly about religion and turf envy. Mary is a Catholic widow, sort of. At 19, she married King Francis ll of France. A year later Francis died and she became queen.

But alas, Mary really wanted to be Queen of Scotland, so she came home to assume the throne, which in this terribly accurately designed film is simply a pile of carved rocks surrounded by magnificent scenery. You’re going to want a timeshare on these moors.

I’m going to assume that most of you were A students in high school and know about Elizabeth I of England, who was the daughter of the nasty Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who unfortunately was beheaded by Henry. Beheading seems to have run in these families like a tendency to inherit shingles. Then there was, let me see, Lady Jane Grey (that didn’t last long) Mary, Catherine of Aragon, etc. If you didn’t pay attention in school, it’s your fault.

What’s important here for you is this film, this story you’ve paid money to see.

For your cash, you get to watch the delectable, gifted and ubiquitous Saoirse Ronan dazzle us as a feisty Mary Stuart, a monarch with terrible taste in men, and the incredibly surprising, at least for this critic, work of Margot Robbie, who when we saw her last was kneecapping skating stars in “I Tonya.”

Robbie appears from time to time in one of Elizabeth 1st’s many wigs, white powdered face, (to cover the scars of a battle with small pox) a strangely fake Roman nose, and takes ownership of every scene she’s in.

Saoirse, with her pale cream Irish skin and sunset tinted hair, has her own scenes to steal back in drafty Scotland, where she is surrounded by grumpy old white men, including her half brother, the Earl of Moray (James McArdle) who alternately sweet-talks and plots to betray her. Catholic Mary, in softer scenes, made even softer by candlelight, beds her Protestant new husband Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden) who really prefers snuggling with Mary’s adviser Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova.)

Who knew that those ancient royal castles were flying so many rainbow flags above the turrets? From the alleged sheet tossing bisexual antics in Queen Anne’s 1702 bedrooms in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” to the England of Elizabeth’s boudoirs, the ladies in waiting must have spent their evenings clutching their pearls.

My advice: Forget the history books and don’t get all uptight about what is or isn’t historically accurate in either of these films. Just sit back and enjoy the work of two really wonderful young women, Ronin and Robbie, who have stepped in and given Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren some well deserved time off.

In addition, director Josie Rourke, aided by John Mathieson and the thundering music of Max Richter, gives us some breathtaking Scottish scenery; battlefields full of handsome men in tight armor, swinging phallic swords and mallets, and gorgeous women in diaphanous negligees.

Not since Errol Flynn nuzzled Bette Davis back in the Technicolor days have we seen such flourish. Who could ask for anything more?

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


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