Friday, 17 June 2016

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

If Mary Stuart had borne a son to her first husband, rather than a second, we might live in a very different world.  That hypothetical child would have been heir to the thrones of France and Scotland, as well as a claimant to the throne of England.  He would probably also have been a Catholic, whereas circumstances would dictate that her real life son - who would indeed go on to be King of both Scotland and England - was raised a Protestant.

The 'might have been' I mention above does not get much attention from this film, but it does serve to illustrate the significance that Mary, Queen of Scots had, and why she might make a fine subject for a film.  Doubly-so because her greatest rival was the renowned Elizabeth I.

Producer Hal Wallis was behind Anne of the Thousand Days, which I reviewed a couple of days ago.  That film ended with a shot of Elizabeth as a child, and so it feels quite fitting that he chose to follow up a couple of years later with this film.  For despite its title, this is as much Elizabeth's film as Mary's.  Wallis's film is thus served well by the choice to cast Glenda Jackson as the English Queen.  She had prior experience in the role from the BBC's series Elizabeth R and her work here is excellent.

In any case, Mary Stuart's first husband - Francis II of France - died without issue and she departed France for her homeland of Scotland.  This was a country she had not seen since was five years old and one with deep rifts between those lords who still adhered to the Catholic faith - as Mary did - and those who had converted to the "new religion".  This latter group included her own illegitimate half brother.

This would not be an easy situation for anyone, and Mary would soon make it even more difficult for herself.  In fact, much of this film is a little like watching a fly caught in a web and becoming more and more entangled as it struggles to get free.  For instance, Mary soon entered into an extremely unwise second marriage with a Catholic English lord named Darnley who would ultimately rebel against her and take part in the murder of one of her close friends.  The spider in this 'web' analogy is of course Elizabeth I.

I enjoyed this film and if you are at all a fan of costume dramas it is worth your time.  Jackson is excellent as Elizabeth, and Vanessa Redgrave makes a solid Mary.  The supporting cast is all very good as well.  Just don't go in expecting it to be rigorously authentic in its history - accuracy is definitely sacrificed for drama at times, even if the broad strokes are correct.

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