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Mary Stuart returns to Scotland to rule as queen, to the chagrin of Elizabeth I of England who finds her a dangerous rival. There is much ado over whom Mary shall marry; to her later regret, she picks effete Lord Darnley over the strong but unpopular Earl of Bothwell. A palace coup leads to civil war and house arrest for Mary; she escapes and flees to England, where a worse fate awaits her. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Opening credits: "Like two fateful stars, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor appeared in the sixteenth century, to reign over two great nations in the making ... They were doomed to a life-and-death struggle for supremacy, a lurid struggle that still shines across the pages of history ... But today, after more than three centuries, they sleep side by side, at peace, in Westminster Abbey."
The directors cannot refrain from showing the two queens together in one scene.Charles Jarrot -whose movie is inferior to John Ford's- did the same in 1972.And however,they never met ,not a single time during Mary's captivity.But John Ford's scene is useful for people who know little about the Virgin Queen.It's sure that Mary's childhood in France was a nice one even though her reign was short as king François II's wife.On the other hand,Elizabeth lived in fear when she was a child for her bloody sister wanted to get rid of her.
The first past begins in Scotland ,and France is only evoked in Mary's memories.This first part is the most satisfying historically speaking:Darnley's and Ricci's murders are well directed by Ford,and the town criers who ,every ten minutes announce "It's eight'o clock!All is fine!" shows his sense of humor.Biggest flaw is the little part of James Stuart, aka"the bastard" aka Maurey:This man is really the stringman,who plays a prominent part in the queen's downfall,holding Mary like a puppet on a string,travelling to France when rebellion begins -he was not here when Mary was imprisoned in Lochleven-,just coming back to reap the benefits (regency he had lost when his sister came back).
Frederic March is a fine actor,but his Bothwell is not credible.Bothwell was a hairy brute ,not the romantic chivalrous fair knight we see here.Mary's abduction remains a mysterious part because the historians have no documents of what really happened.Mary's captivity in Lochleven-where she at last understood how James Stuart fooled her -and her extraordinary escape -worthy of Hitchcock's suspense-lasts barely 30 seconds on the screen.
Ditto for Mary's captivity in England.When she arrived,she was in what we would call "under house arrest" today.Only during her last year,when they discovered a plot,she was taken to the fortress of Fotheringay (a wonderful Fairport Convention song by the way),she was really a prisoner in the modern sense of the term.And she had a whole floor for herself though.
The trial is unsatisfying.At the time,Mary did not care for Bothwell anymore,she was longing to become a martyr of the Catholic cause.She did not know that the pope did not take her seriously .The scene with Donald is pure romantic fiction.
All in all ,and even if the things fall apart a bit in the second part,the movie is magnificently enhanced by Hepburn's presence and Ford -they said they had a love affair on the set- lovingly films her.I've been told that the scene between Bothwell and the queen on the tower was filmed by KH herself.
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