The True Story of Mary, Queen of Scots

a woman posing for a picture
© Getty/Focus FeaturesThe much anticipated Elizabethan-era film, Mary Queen of Scots hit theaters everywhere December 21.Starring Academy Award nominees Soarise Ronan and Margot Robbie, the film tells the true story of Mary Stuart and her cousin, Elizabeth I.

While the story is compelling, was a 2018 film true to its 16th-century inspiration?

Spoilers ahead: 

Who was Mary, Queen of Scots?

Played in the film by Irish actress Soarise Ronan, Mary Stuart was known for her beauty and stature throughout her life and lived from 1542 to 1587.

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Asserted to the throne just six days after her birth, due to her father’s death, Mary was whisked away to France to be educated until she was old enough to rule Scotland.

Marrying her first husband, Francis II, at 16 years old she wore dual crowns as she sat on the French throne.

Mary returned to her homeland of Scotland after her husband died, making her a widow at 18.

The Rivalry Between Mary and Elizabeth I

The story of the dueling queens is very much based in reality. Queen Elizabeth I became threatened by Mary due to the favor she had with the English people.

Elizabeth already struggled with the approval of throughout her kingdom. The Queen was able to rule over England due to the death of her father, who also executed her mother and the deaths of all her siblings.

Elizabeth was also Protestant, which the Catholic-driven country didn’t approve of. Mary, on the other hand, was Catholic and had a much easier transition to the throne.

Due to the threat of Elizabeth’s throne, Mary became a threat to her – and thus, a rivalry was born.

The one fictitious element of the queens’ relationship is their meeting. While the movie portrays a climactic meeting between the two leading ladies, according to historical records, it never happened.

British historian Dr. John Guy spoke with Vanity Fair regarding the reasoning behind the alteration to the true story.

Described by the historian as “a theatrical exaggeration,” filmmakers believed “that a movie could only work if the two principal protagonists actually met and looked each other in the eye.”

In reality, the two queens continued to communicate through letters.

The rivalry became so strong that Elizabeth imprisoned Mary and put her on trial for treason. Mary was later found guilty and beheaded.

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