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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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." See more »
MARY OF SCOTLAND, caught up in intrigues over which she has no control, finds herself at the mercy of powerful forces that wish her ill.
John Ford crafted this meticulous, thoughtful study into the life of the Scottish Queen and the trials & tribulations which buffeted her. With a complicated plot and a very large cast, the film presupposes a certain amount of intelligence on the part of its viewers, as well as an interest in the history of Great Britain. The film is not easy to watch - this is, after all, an historical drama, not a musical comedy - but the viewer's attention should be paid off in the end. Very fine production values also help greatly in the movie's appreciation.
Katharine Hepburn is luminous & regal in the title role. Continuing in the tradition of formidable actresses of the 1930's who played queens on the screen (Colbert, Garbo, Dietrich, Shearer, Robson, Davis) Hepburn gives a strong portrayal of the stubborn, independently minded Scottish monarch. Kate makes the viewer at once feel an engaging interest in this poor lady, so beset by the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune.' Wisely not speaking in a brogue - the real Mary probably didn't either - Hepburn uses her remarkable face & voice to make this long-dead historical figure come alive.
As the Earl of Bothwell, Mary's 3rd husband, Fredric March provides a sturdy hero worth cheering. Here is a man willing to confront any danger for the sake of the woman he loves. If the real Bothwell was perhaps not quite so noble, no matter. March breathes vibrant, pulsing life into the character and embodies him with real strengths & virtues.
A large & exceptional cast give fine support to the principals. Some deserve special mention:
John Carradine as Mary's tragic Italian secretary, Rizzio; Douglas Walton as Lord Darnley, Mary's repugnant 2nd husband; Ian Keith as her unscrupulous half-brother, the Lord Moray. Florence Eldridge stands out in her portrayal of the conflicted Queen Elizabeth.
Moroni Olsen as a fiery John Knox; Donald Crisp as a loyal old laird; Ralph Forbes & Alan Mowbray as Elizabeth's ambassadors; and dear old Mary Gordon as a baby nurse - all have their brief moments to shine.
Lionel Belmore & Doris Lloyd (with an unbilled Bobs Watson as their son) play poor fisher folk who give Mary much needed succor. Ivan Simpson & Nigel de Brulier play two of the wicked English judges who condemn Mary to death.
But it is Hepburn the viewer remembers longest. Her shining eyes & majestic mien remain in the mind for a very long time
The circumstances surrounding the murder of David Rizzio are so well documented that it is somewhat surprising that Ford did not stick more scrupulously to the facts. Darnley and his fellow conspirators entered the Queen's apartments via a private, narrow staircase, hidden in the wall, which communicated directly with Mary's rooms. There is no indication that her bodyguard troops were slain as well, as the film depicts.
The script is at pains to keep the Earl of Bothwell a noble hero and uninvolved in Darnley's murder. However, there's little doubt of Bothwell's guilt in the affair. Darnley was not killed outright by the massive explosion - rather he was found, terribly hurt but still alive, lying in a nearby field. He was quickly strangled.
The movie does not make clear that it was in Denmark where Bothwell died in prison in 1578. Mary had divorced him in 1570.
Unlike the relatively short time depicted in the film, Mary was actually a captive of Elizabeth for 19 years, outliving Bothwell by nine years. Elizabeth & Mary never met - it makes good film drama, but it didn't happen.
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