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Watch a Masterclass in Acting With Ronan vs. Robbie in 'Mary, Queen of Scots'

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A historical drama based on the John Guy book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, the new film, Mary Queen of Scots, features compelling performances by both Saoirse Ronan, who plays the film's title character, and Margot Robbie, who portrays her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Even though Ronan is Irish and Robbie is Australian, you couldn't have found two actresses better suited for their respective parts.

While the film often comes off as more Masterpiece Theatre than Game of Thrones, it still packs a mighty punch. It opens on Friday area-wide.

If you don't know the history of how Mary and Elizabeth quarreled with one another, it might do you good to do a bit of brushing up before watching this movie, which presupposes at least a working knowledge of what was going on politically in England and Scotland in the 16th century as Protestants and Catholics took opposing sides.

At the film's start, we see Mary practically wash up on the Scottish shores. Widowed, she was the Queen of France but has returned to her homeland to reclaim her right to the throne. Legally, it's hers, but her arrival does not sit well with everyone, particularly her brother James (James McArdle), the Earl of Moray. Still, the strong-willed Mary persists, and she's able to take charge.

But Mary doesn't just want to be Queen of Scotland. Rather, she'd also like to rule England. When Elizabeth discovers this, she sets out to disrupt Mary's quest and funds a small rebellion. While that doesn't do the trick, a group of Scottish dissenters soon finds a way to undermine Mary, and we see her slowly unravel in the film's second half.

One major shortcoming here is that Ronan and Robbie share so little screen time. Most of their interaction takes place via letters and messengers. It's only near the film's conclusion that they come face-to-face, and that scene itself is so staged that it feels rather anti-climactic. Still, their terrific performances make the movie worthwhile.

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