Mary Queen of Scots (15)****

Dir: Josie Rourke

With: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, David Tennant

Runtime: 124 minutes

TWO prominent women, one in Scotland, one in England, besieged by plotters and critics but determined to hold on to power. As Theresa May might say, REMIND you of anyone?

Only the Nicola Sturgeon half of the Prime Minister/First Minister duo was present last night for the Scottish premiere of Mary Queen of Scots, the Prime Minister being otherwise engaged in London. One can imagine both finding a lot that is pertinent in director Josie Rourke’s determinedly modern drama.

Not modern in the sense that everyone wears jeans and jumpers. Heaven forbid. Rourke’s day job is artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse in London, and she puts her eye for staging and design to sumptuous use in recreating the 16th century courts of Mary at Holyrood and Elizabeth in London (the film is up for Baftas for hair and make-up and costume design).

Tourism boost ahead from Mary Queen of Scots

Where Rourke’s drama is of the here and now is in its feminist retelling of Mary’s story, in particular the way it places the blame for her downfall on misogyny. This is a #MeToo Mary Queen of Scots, one who warns other women to be wary of men - “Their love is not the same as their respect” - and who is a bold, strategic thinker and doer.

As for how Scotland comes across, that is a mixed bag. It looks magnificent, but politically we appear a right shower, a mob straight outta Game of Thrones who love fighting and copulating in equal measure. Decide for yourself the accuracy of that.

Saoirse Ronan plays Mary (the role taken by Vanessa Redgrave in the 1971 film), as a budding flower of Scotland, brimming with life and determination that Elizabeth shall name her as successor. It is not long till she experiences the wrath of John Knox (David Tennant, fulminating magnificently in a Hagrid-style beard). “We have a scourge upon the land,” bellows the minister. “It is worse than pestilence, it is a woman with a crown.”

With a screenplay by Beau Willimon, based on John Guy’s Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, the film is built around an event that did not happen: the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. Though this might dismay purists, it works well as a plot driver. When the two finally get together it marks the point of no return for Mary, post Darnley, post the savage murder of David Rizzio, and post accusations of her adultery.

Ronan looks stunning in the role, her red hair glowing, that Celtic complexion radiant. Have no fear: the Scots accent passes muster. Elizabeth, played by Margot Robbie, is equally breathtaking, though in different ways. Robbie has the more complex character in the barren queen who was a better politician than most around her, and she duly rips the bones from the part, hence the Bafta nomination for best supporting actress. Ronan’s Mary, being almost two-dimensional on occasion, does not have the same impact.

Jack Lowden on Mary Queen of Scots and flying a Spitfire

Though the women have the lioness’s share of the drama, Martin Compston shines as Lord Bothwell, Mary’s initial protector, with Jack Lowden just the right mix of slipperiness and cowardice as Darnley, and Adrian Lester his usual silky self as Lord Randolph, the noble who tried and failed to broker peace between the two queens.

At the rather rushed but thrilling end it is Ronan who dominates, her final look to camera enough to chill the blood. The lady in red, the martyr, the woman who loved Scotland not wisely but too well. For two majestic, enthralling hours, she lives again.