THE NEW YORK TIMES – When Josie Rourke made her pitch to direct “Mary Queen of Scots,” about the royal rivalry between the Scottish ruler Mary Stuart and the English Queen Elizabeth I, she suggested thinking of the movie as a renaissance version of “Heat.” Like that thriller, which cast Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on opposite sides of the law, “what the film needed was a really great scene for two women to play opposite each other,” Rourke said.
Much of “Mary Queen of Scots” (due Friday) builds to that moment when Mary and Elizabeth finally meet — a cinematic flourish, as historians believe the two communicated only by letter. The film’s scene is the sort of centerpiece that only works if you know the women playing it are formidably matched equals offscreen, too. In casting Margot Robbie as Elizabeth opposite Saoirse Ronan’s Mary, Rourke found a pair so well-matched that they even competed against each other for last season’s best actress Oscar.
Ronan was nominated then for “Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age tale that signaled the 24-year-old actress’s interest in playing complicated young women, while Robbie was in the mix for her performance in “I, Tonya” as the disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, proving the 28-year-old actress could play roles quite unlike her breakout bombshell in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The two women sit atop Hollywood’s young A-list, but Ronan and Robbie both bristle at traditional notions of how an actress — or, for that matter, a queen — is expected to wield that power.