Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

PG-13  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  29 March 1972 (Sweden)
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Mary Stuart, who was named Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old, is the last Roman Catholic ruler of Scotland. She is imprisoned at he age of 23 by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, ... See full summary »



(original screenplay)
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Nominated for 5 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Henry - Lord Darnley
Daniel Massey ...
Andrew Keir ...
Tom Fleming ...
Katherine Kath ...
Beth Harris ...
Frances White ...
Bruce Purchase ...
Brian Coburn ...


Mary Stuart, who was named Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old, is the last Roman Catholic ruler of Scotland. She is imprisoned at he age of 23 by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, the English Queen and her arch adversary. Nineteen years later the life of Mary is to be ended on the scaffold and with her execution the last threat to Elizabeth's throne has been removed. The two Queens with their contrasting personalities make a dramatic counterpoint to history. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF ENGLAND, who reigned with the power of a man. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some violence | See all certifications »




Release Date:

29 March 1972 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

María, reina de Escocia  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(world premiere)| (35 mm prints)| (some 35 mm prints)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow and Sophia Loren were the first choices to play Mary. Vanessa Redgrave was the fourth choice. Maggie Smith was in talks but plans fell through. See more »


James I of England (also known as James VI of Scotland) was born in Edinburgh Castle, not the Earl of Bothwell's estate. Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace. See more »


[first lines]
Francis - King of France: [screams] La Vierge!
Mary, Queen of Scots: What is it? What is it?
Francis - King of France: My head! My head!
Mary, Queen of Scots: Be still, be still, put your head down.
Francis - King of France: Please, help me.
See more »


Version of Mary of Scotland (1936) See more »

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User Reviews

Poor history and flawed drama
6 July 2009 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Mary, Queen of Scots was critically reviled when it opened - possibly because audiences had overdosed on period epics with downbeat endings by the early seventies, but just as likely because it lacks enough of a central performance to carry the picture. Vanessa Redgrave has always been an extremely mechanical screen actress, to put it mildly, and looking at her screen work it's hard to understand how she ever got a reputation as a great actress. With her vocal inflection veering up and down like an Innsbruck ski jump before travelling north, south, east, west and all points of the compass inbetween in the space of a single line and her movements occasionally awkward, she rarely seems in command of her performance, let alone possessing either the grace or the star quality the part demands. While never as bad here as in Camelot or The Charge of the Light Brigade, she does have a couple of spectacularly awful moments - most notably the would-be dramatic scene when she seizes real power from her half-brother for the first time - where her amateur dramatics make Keira Knightley at her worst look good by comparison. Yet between them Charles Jarrott's direction and John Hale's script for the most part manage to use her weaknesses in the film's favor, offering an impulsive, none-too-bright "pampered woman demanding that all indulge her" who is never the equal of any of the challenges she faces as she wildly rushes to her own destruction, easily outwitted and outmatched at every turn by Glenda Jackson's rather splendid Elizabeth I, who commands her every scene and effortlessly walks away with the movie.

The script itself is problematic. Although it writes its way around the film's most glaring historical error, Mary and Elizabeth meeting not once but twice (secret meetings, you see), it's never good enough to avoid the feeling that it's winding down like a clockwork toy en route to a dreary last 15 minutes where everyone seems to lose interest: even Mary's yearning for martyrdom seems motivated by a tired desire for the whole thing to be over and done with so they can all go home. For a life steeped in blood and violence, few scenes are particularly memorable or vivid despite a couple of assassinations (Ian Holm unfortunately turning the murder of David Riccio into an unintended moment of high camp), numerous (offscreen) revolts, an execution and openly bisexual and syphilitic characters. There's also no sense of how disastrous her troubled reign was for Scotland, the drama seen purely through the eyes of Mary, Elizabeth and various plotting nobles, the people themselves glimpsed only briefly as extras in a mere couple of scenes, giving it a slight feel of historical soap opera.

At one point this was an Alexander MacKendrick project with a much darker vision - he wanted to cast Jeanne Moreau as a French-speaking queen surrounded by Scottish gangsters running the country like a protection racket, with squalid, violent, muddy battle scenes that would make Chimes at Midnight look like whitewashed Hollywood glamour - before producer Hal Wallis decided the best way to have another Anne of the Thousand Days-scale hit was to hire that film's director instead and throw the battles and the history book out the window. The result is a romantic spectacle that relies on star power and screen chemistry that the film doesn't really possess. None of her three leading men strike any sparks with Redgrave - understandable in the case of Timothy Dalton's weak and eternally treacherous Darnley but much more of a problem with Nigel Davenport's Bothwell, fine with the brash stuff but lacking fire or much interest in the love scenes. But then, few of the cast seem particularly enthused by their roles, Patrick McGoohan and Trevor Howard standing out from the crowd of adequate performers without being particularly outstanding.

Aside from Jackson's star turn, the film's real triumph is John Barry's beautiful Oscar-nominated score. It's watchable enough but it's hard to shake the feeling that once they'd spent the money on the cast, costumes and locations there wasn't much left for anything else.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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