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What the critics thought of new movie Mary Queen of Scots

John MacKay was joined by Dr Anna Groundwater and Alison Rowat on Scotland Tonight.

Premier: Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan took to the red carpet.
Premier: Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan took to the red carpet. STV

The new movie Mary Queen of Scots premiered in Edinburgh last night. Stars of the film took to the red carpet to celebrate its release.

The BAFTA nominated film tells the story of the 16th century power struggle between the rival cousins ruling over a feuding Scotland and England.

Saoirse Ronan plays the title role of Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie stars as Elizabeth.

John MacKay was joined by Edinburgh University's Dr Anna Groundwater who's a cultural and social historian of early modern Scotland and Britain as well as Alison Rowat who's a columnist and film critic with The Herald.

JOHN: Alison, what did you make of it first of all?

ALISON: I thought it was surprisingly good. There's always a bit of trepidation when the cinema does Scotland, you're always on tenterhooks, are the accents going to be dreadful, are they going to make us look like country bumpkins?

But this was a very sophisticated package, two great performances from Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan and the whole staging of it was extremely well done.

JOHN: Anna, looking at it first of all just with a film goer's eye, what did you make of it?

ANNA: Oh I loved it, I had great fun. In fact the first hour and 40 minutes I thought was fantastic. I have to say I thought the last 20 minutes went a bit awol.

JOHN: In what regard?

ANNA: Flights of fancy. I don't mind flights of fancy; it's the classic moment when Mary and Elizabeth meet, which of course never actually happened. I felt the whole staging of that was rather peculiar.

ALISON: I could see why they had done it because it's a great plot driver. When they supposedly meet, Mary's in a corner, it is post-Darnley, post murder and accusations of adultery. So she's really at the point of no return and more or less asking or pleading with Elizabeth to help her.

JOHN: Anna, taking it from the perspective of the historian then, how accurate is it?

ANNA: There are things about it that are actually surprisingly accurate and refreshing in terms of the strong portrayal of Mary Stuart as a person who's very secure in her own power, her own right to rule, her own position and dignity.

There are wonderful lines from it, about Elizabeth - her inferior. She says things to Darnley like, "you dare touch your sovereign?" She's very aware of her own right to rule and that chimes absolutely with reality.

There are other things that are not quite spot on but I suppose I think what my most major criticism is - if I'm going to be a nasty historian - is the very Anglocentric view of Scottish history that it gives us. It's a slightly predictable view of wilder Scots. Mary's brother is portrayed as a mad figure, with coal around his eyes, hair sticking out everywhere, he has a hair band, a wild beard, contrasting with the English courtiers with their very neat hair, trimmed beards, perfect clothing. I do think there is a bit of this uncivilised Scot mentality.

ALISON: Scotland gets sort of a mixed bag, I mean it looks fantastic, the tourist board will be very pleased with this but we do come across as a sort of Game of Thrones style gang of thugs.

JOHN: In other regards it's quite modern in its portrayal.

ALISON: It's got two female leads, they speak about what it's like to be in power but still ruled by men and to be on the receiving end of attitudes that believe them to be weak and subservient. They fight back against that but they never quite escape the bounds of womanhood.

JOHN: What about the historical accuracy itself for a film, does that bother you overly?

ANNA: Not overly. The meeting between Mary and Elizabeth never happened as we know. They had a very intimate and frequent correspondence throughout their lives. They treated and talked to each other as sisters, very intimate stuff.

JOHN: Alison, as you said it gave a certain dramatic ending to the film.

ALISON: We of course end on, spoiler alert, the execution which is extremely well done, chills watching it.

JOHN: Who had the stronger claim to the throne?

ANNA: Elizabeth obviously thought she did because she was Henry VIII daughter.

But for Mary, brought up a Catholic, Mary the VIII marriage to Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother was in fact erroneous. It produced an illegitimate child in Catholic eyes so Elizabeth in Mary's eyes is in fact illegitimate and thus the line comes down through Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII sister, directly down to Mary.

She actually says in the film, "I have a stronger claim."

JOHN: A film worth going to see Alison, do you think?

ALISON: Yeah definitely and I think it'll appeal to younger Scots as well who have seen Outlaw King, who know about Braveheart, who watch Game of Thrones. This will be good popular history for them I think.

JOHN: Alison, Anna, thank you both for joining us on Scotland Tonight, thank you.

-This interview has been condensed.

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