Mary, Queen of Scots:
My dearest Bothwell, I will ask no more men to die in vain. To save my child I place myself in the hands of the enemy, and pray they will be merciful. In return, they grant you freedom for one day. Take it my darling. Flee, with all my love, Mary.
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Given the pronounced anti-Catholic bias of most contemporary English history, one might think that any attempt to redress the balance might be welcomed. Alas, Jimmy McGovern's drama, 'Gunpowder, Treason and Plot', proves this not to be the case. Its greatest problem is its unfortunate tendency to encapsulate complex political issues in slogans, and those slogans, in turn, in characters - the portrayal of John Knox (who does little more than storm about and utter his most famous quote) exemplifies this. This, and the number of historical liberties taken (James I, for example, discovers the Gunpowder Plot in person) make the story a less accurate guide to the past than even 'Braveheart'.
The series is not helped either by some substandard acting. Clemence Posey, with her bizarre French-American-Scottish accent, is mostly inaudible as Mary Queen of Scots and seems to take most of the cues for her performance from Mila Jovovitch's disastrous turn as Joan of Arc in 'Messenger'. Sira Stampe is robotic as James I's wife, while Robert Carlyle's James is as unconvincing as he is unhinged. Also detracting from our enjoyment are the understaffed battle scenes, the histrionic tone, and a decidedly anachronistic portrayal of sexuality.
Surprisingly, given McGovern's own politics, there's almost no hint of republicanism here, although within a few decades Britain was engulfed by a civil war that disputed absolutely the relevance of monarchy: perhaps this is ignored because it was a Protestant rebellion. Instead, we get a boring, linear drama of good queen Mary, bad queen Elisabeth and mad king James. I'm still certain that somewhere, behind the propaganda, there's an interesting story - how did hatred of Catholocism spread so rapidly when only a handful of years previously, everyone in England was Catholic? But this film does little to open one's eyes.
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