Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)



Director:  Charles Jarrott

Starring:  Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots), Glenda Jackson (Queen Elizabeth I), Patrick McGoohan (James Stuart), Timothy Dalton (Lord Henry Darnley), Nigel Davenport (James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell), Trevor Howard (Sir William Cecil), Daniel Massey (Robert Dudley), Ian Holm (David Rizzio), Andrew Keir (Ruthven), Tom Fleming (Father Ballard), Katherine Kath (Catherine de Medici), Beth Harris (Mary Seton), Frances White (Mary Fleming), Bruce Purchase (Morton), Brian Coburn (Huntly).


This is a very good movie even though not completely historically accurate.  (Don't worry, you can read the Historical Background below.)

The story starts in 1560 as the Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Vanessa Redgrave), following the death of her husband, the King of France, returns to Scotland from France, where she is met with considerable opposition from the Scottish Protestants and from Queen Elizabeth of England (Glenda Jackson).  

Queen Elizabeth thinks she knows that Mary is so impulsive that she will fall for an emotional set-up against her .  She sends the unknowing fool Lord Darnley to Scotland for the purpose of marrying Mary.  Elizabeth figures this foolish marriage will lead to Mary's downfall and it certainly does.  


Spoiler Warning:   the entire plot is summarized below.

The movie starts with Queen Elizabeth saying that "Yes, Mary may come home."  And Mary does return to Scotland from France.  (She was,however, denied permission to travel through England to Scotland.)  One not happy about her appearance is John Knox, leader of the Scottish Protestant church. 

Mary arrives to a cauldron of religious controversy. There is a struggle in Scotland between the Protestants and Catholics for supremacy in the land.  Mary's brother James Stuart is a Protestant and means to be the real ruler behind the Catholic figure-head Mary. 

In England Queen Elizabeth is cheered by news that her beloved Robert Dudley's name has been cleared of any suspicion in the death of his wife.  She tells Robert that he shall take the apartment above her own.  Elizabeth then sets a trap for the Scottish Queen.  She sends Dudley north to offer himself as a candidate for marriage to Queen Mary.  Robert also presents the Deed of Succession for Mary's signature that will deny any claim Mary might have on the succession in England.

Elizabeth also sends the fool Lord Henry Darnley, a Catholic to Mary.  The English Queen believes that the Scottish Queen is such an emotional, rather than intellectual, person that she will chose Lord Darnley as a candidate to be her next husband.  Robert Dudley comes back rejected by Mary, while Lord Darnley has more luck.  When Mary announces her prospective marriage to the Catholic Darnley, her brother James virtually shouts: "You must not marry a Catholic!"

Once married to Mary, the greedy and childish Darnley tries to become the King and make Mary a mere figure-head.  To that end he agrees to cooperate with the Protestant lords and embrace Protestantism in order to become Henry I of Scotland. They conspire together and kill the representative of the Pope, David Rizzio, to the Queen of Scotland.  The pregnant Mary understands that her enemies will put her under virtual house arrest and she seeks the help of  James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to escape.  Bothwell takes the Queen to his castle, the Hermitage.

Mary gives birth to a son, the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland.  When Elizabeth hears of the news, she is extremely upset. 

Worse news for Elizabeth is that Bothwell is able to push out the Protestant lords.  Mary's brother James is set to be executed, but she pardons him.  But she finds that she must move against Lord Darnley for he has promised to go to the Pope for an annulment of their marriage, making Mary's son a bastard.  Even though Darnley has come down with the pox, the Protestants and Bothwell agree to move against he husband of the Queen. When an attempt to blow him up with gunpowder fails, the lords stab Darnley to death. 

Mary marries Bothwell.  The brother that Mary refused to execute now appears with the Protestant lords to present an ultimatum to the couple.  Bothwell is to go into exile in Denmark and Mary will be forced to leave Scotland for England.  If they do not agree, James will publish Mary's letters to Bothwell that will reveal her part in the murder of her husband.  James adds that they will bring up her son as a good Protestant.

The couple goes into exile.    Elizabeth is extremely worried that Mary in England is conspiring to assassinate her.  And she is.  King Philip of Spain has come up with a new plot against Elizabeth and Mary is cooperative.  Elizabeth imprisons Mary, but is reluctant to have her executed.  William Cecil, her chief adviser, gets Elizabeth to consider executing Mary if he can produce proof of Mary's treachery.  The proof does not take long to get and Cecil declares" "Now we have her!"

Elizabeth still does not want to execute Mary and says that if Mary begs her for forgiveness, she shall live.  But Mary rejects the idea and even embraces what she sees as her martyrdom.  The execution of the Queen of Scotland is carried out. 

The movie is filled with lots of political machinations and many turns and twists keeping the viewer's attention.  Are we watching an episode of history or an episode of The Sopranos? Both Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson are wonderful as the two rival Queens.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Mary, Queen of Scots

1542 -- born at Linlithgow, daughter of James V, King of Scots, by his second wife, the French noblewoman Mary of Guise (1515-60), while her father lay dying at Falkland.

1542 -- six days after her birth she is declared Queen. James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran (c1515-75), next in line to the throne, acts as regent and tutor until 1554 when Mary of Guise becomes regent.

Hamilton promises Mary in marriage to Prince Edward of England (1537-53), son of Henry VIII (1491-1547), but the Scottish parliament revokes the promise and this leads to war with England. The English defeat the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie (1547).

1547 -- Mary sent to France to marry the dauphin Francois (1544-60). Her first language was French because it had been widely spoken among the Scottish nobility. She remained in France between the ages of five and eighteen, and the thorough education she received there acquainted her with the literature which she used as models in her own writing. Her library would eventually contain more than 300 books, and would constitute the largest collection of French and Italian poetry in Scotland.

1558 -- The Scottish Protestant John Knox (c1513-72), writes a tract expressing his disapproval of female monarchs in "The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women".

1558 -- Mary marries the dauphin. His short reign as Francois II, with his mother Catherine de Medici (1519-89) as queen regent, was dominated by the struggle between the Guise family and the Protestants; a struggle which was also taking place in Scotland, where the Protestant nobles were in revolt against Mary of Guise.

1560 -- Francois dies; Catherine de Medici remains queen regent during the minority of her second son Charles IX (1550-74). See the movie review of "Queen Margot" for detailed background.

1560 -- Mary remains in France as dowager queen for a few months until the death of her mother forces her to return to Scotland. She immediately is met with protests and opposition from the Protestants, which continues to occur through her reign. In Scotland, the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, unhappy with Mary of Guise's regency, had effectively taken power, holding an illegal parliament in 1560 - the "year of Reformation" - which negated the authority of the Pope.

1561 -- George Buchanan becomes Mary's tutor, but later becomes one of her most implacable enemies.

1565 -- Mary marries her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (1545-67), who becomes Henry, King of Scots.

1566 -- While pregnant by her husband, in her antechamber at Holyrood house, she witnesses the brutal murder of David Rizzio (c1533-66), her Italian-born favorite who had negotiated the terms of her marriage to Darnley. The jealous Darnley was involved in the murder plot. Some have suggested that it was Darnley's hope that by witnessing the crime, Mary would lose the child who prevented Darnley from reigning as absolute king in the event of Mary's own death. John Knox gave tacit support for Rizzio's murder in the hope that Mary would be overthrown. When Mary remains in power he goes to England (returning to Edinburgh only after Mary's abdication).

1566 -- the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England, born; Darnley refuses to attend the Catholic baptism at Stirling Castle.

1567 -- divorce from the queen is openly discussed, but before anything happens on this matter, while recovering from a bout of smallpox, the house where Darnley is sleeping is blown up with gunpowder, killing him. Blame falls upon Mary's new favorite, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell (c1535-78), and upon Mary herself (though her involvement has never been established).

Bothwell was tried by a sham court which acquitted him; he then kidnaps Mary (meeting with no apparent resistance) and takes her to his castle at Dunbar. Mary pardons him and they marry. The outraged Scottish nobles rise against her.

1567, June -- Mary's army is defeated at Carberry; Mary is imprisoned at Lochleven and is forced to abdicate in favor of her son.

1567, July 24 -- the crowning of James VI at Stirling; the very same day Mary miscarries her twins by Bothwell. Bothwell escapes to Norway, but he is captured and imprisoned in various parts of Scandinavia.

1567 -- founding of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

1570 -- the marriage between Mary and Bothwell is annulled; Mary escapes her captivity, but when she is defeated again she has to turn to the English Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). (Elizabeth imprisons Mary in various places for about twenty years. Mary had a legitimate claim to the English throne and as such she posed a threat to Elizabeth).

1570 -- James VI under tutelage of Mary's former tutor George Buchanan (who now is Mary's enemy as he was outraged by Darnley's murder). Buchanan appointed moderator of the newly-founded General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1567) that places him in direct political opposition to Mary. He produces pamphlets (which he shows Queen Elizabeth) accusing Mary of starting her affair with Bothwell prior to Darnley's death and charging her with complicity in the murder of Darnley.

1573 -- Bothwell dies insane in a Danish prison.

1586 -- Sir Francis Walsingham (c 1530-90) intercepts coded messages in which Mary approves a plot led by her page Antony Babington against Elizabeth. Mary is tried at Fotheringay and convicted along with the other conspirators.

1587 -- Mary is beheaded at Peterborough on 8 February. Her motto, embroidered on her clothing, was "In my end is my beginning".

1612 -- Mary's body moved to the chapel of her great-grandfather Henry VII at Westminster.


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