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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."
Ridiculously Romanticized, But With Some Good Performances And A Decent Look At The 16th Century Scottish Court
A couple of points just to start out with. First is that this movie (in my opinion anyway) hasn't held up as well as some others of the era. Some movies from the mid-30's still work, but "Mary of Scotland" came across to me as quite dated. It just looked old to me for whatever reason. The second point I'd make in starting out is that although I guess it would have to be classified as a story based on history, it's actually a movie based on a play by Maxwell Anderson. It plays rather fast and loose with history, and the musical scenes - perhaps necessary for a stageplay - seemed unnecessary and frankly kind of silly in a movie of this type. I would also add that the story is ridiculously romanticized, which is fairly typical of even modern movies that deal with the Tudors (and, although it's sometimes forgotten, Mary was a Tudor - the great niece of Elizabeth's father Henry VIII.) In a way, it's her Tudor background that really sets the stage for what the movie succeeded in doing.
The heart of the movie, to me, was the contrast between Mary and England's Queen Elizabeth I - Henry's daughter. Mary - played by Katherine Hepburn - came across as passionate and desperately yearning for love, while Elizabeth - played by Florence Eldridge - came across as cold and calculating. Both were immersed in the politics of their respective kingdoms, but Mary came across as something of an unwilling participant, while Elizabeth seemed to relish the political world. Hepburn - as the title implies - was much more central to the movie than Eldridge, and her performance was certainly passable - although I would suggest that Mary was much tougher than Hepburn played her, and was quite capable of holding her own in the rough and tumble world of the 16th century Scottish court.
That was the primary background to the movie: the Scottish court and the political and religious battles that were being fought. Mary was Catholic, but Scotland had embraced the reformed religion (ie, Calvinist Protestantism) and while Mary was open to toleration, Protestants never really accepted her or believed her promises. Mary's troubled relationship with her Council was believable. The Council is portrayed as wanting Mary to be essentially what we would call today a constitutional monarch - one who reigned but didn't really rule, except with the consent of her advisors. This would have been quite a normal expectation for the Scottish Council, since for almost 150 years Scotland had been in and out of regency, as a succession of children and teenagers had come to the throne, and so the lords of Scotland were quite accustomed to having their way. The relationship between Mary and the Earl of Bothwell was perhaps the most hopelessly over- romanticized part of the film. Their relationship in real life was at best tempestuous, and it's generally believed that he forced her into marriage by raping her. The movie doesn't make that suggestion. The movie leads up to Mary's execution under orders from Elizabeth, after she had been imprisoned in England for 19 years. Elizabeth's decision to execute Mary is (and was) a controversial one, but in the context of the times, Mary - as a descendant of the Tudors - was a potential rival for the English throne, especially because English Catholics regarded Elizabeth as an illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII, and therefore as an illegitimate Queen.
"Mary of Scotland" was a box office flop for RKO in 1935, and while it features some good performances it hasn't really held up all that well for today's audiences either. (4/10)
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