Mary Queen of Scots ★★★

The great pleasure of historical biopics often lies in their visceral power to remind us that history is always personal for those who make it. From the Middle Ages to our first walk on the Moon — from Jesus of Nazareth to Freddie of Kensington — even the most mythic figures were flesh before they were folklore. Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots” is an epic look at the intimate frustrations of two massively powerful young women who spend most of their energy navigating between who they are and what they represent.

This isn’t just a movie in which earthly human notions like sacrifice and self-worth shape the course of an empire; it’s a movie about those forces, and how they’ve always determined our fate. Alas, it’s also a movie that martyrs itself for its own ideas. While this flinty and forever relevant medieval drama perfectly embodies the struggles of its heroines, it also shares their fatal inability to reconcile personal strife with political strategy.