Mary Queen of Scots

The rivalry between the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I of England and her cousin the Stuart Queen Mary of Scotland makes for a gripping tale of palace intrigue in the feature directorial debut of Josie Rourke, head of London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse (a theater that launched its previous artistic directors Sam Mendes and Michael Grandage into movies). She reinvigorates the often staid biopic genre with her keen eye for composition and movement within the film frame; we can almost feel the sweep of history as Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) target each other through their proxies, none more alluring and treacherous than lusty Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden), who, as Mary’s second husband, plots for the throne. Screenwriter Beau Willimon (House of Cards) specializes in complex political scenarios; it’s a shame that everything collapses when the queens finally meet in a sequence that has all the heft of a gauzy Chanel fragrance spot.