Who knew that 16th Century Scotland was so very much like our own time and place? At the rather grim court of the Scottish Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan), we encounter an unexpected ethnic diversity (there are nobles of color) and a surprisingly up-to-date view of gender. (Addressing a transvestite man cavorting among the ladies of the bedchamber, Mary says, “Be whoever you would be with us. You make for a lovely sister.”)

Maybe this is the way it was back then—I haven’t read Professor John Guy’s biography of Mary Stuart, upon which Beau Willimon (House of Cards) based his screenplay for Mary Queen of Scots. But it is a historical fact that Mary never met the English Queen Elizabeth I, her cousin and reluctant antagonist—and yet the two women do confront one another in this movie. Which is fine by me, since the scene in which they finally come face to face, in a room that’s oddly but dramatically filled with wafting white curtains, is the best scene in the movie, writes Kurt Loder.

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