In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Ad Astra

This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.

Where's My Roy Cohn?

"Homosexuals have AIDS. I have liver cancer." That corrosive line from Tony Kushner's acclaimed play "Angels in America" is delivered by the character of Roy Cohn,…

Other reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Mary, Queen of Scots

  |  

Thumbing through my favorite doctors’ magazine (Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality) the other day, I came up against an article about the first Queen Elizabeth that made an interesting point. Although many monarchs have had colonies named after them, Elizabeth is the only ruler to have her sexual habits geographically immortalized: Virginia was named for her.

Although she did apparently remain a virgin all her life, Elizabeth was fond of meddling in the sexual lives of others. “Mary, Queen of Scots” is largely concerned with this aspect of her reign, and that no doubt explains why it was made.

Advertisement

The team of director Charles Jarrott and producer Hall Wallis, fresh from their triumph over “Anne of the Thousand Days,” needed to look no further than the rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth for their next historical soap opera.

I’m sorry if I sound disrespectful toward “Mary, Queen of Scots.” It is, after all, based on genuine British history.

Still, it cherishes a soap-opera approach to history, condensing several decades of pretty complicated diplomacy into an account of Mary’s three marriages, her second husband’s bisexuality, Elizabeth’s quirky affair with her Master of Horses, and so on.

All of this is done up with a lot of trumpet calls, several parchment documents, a few parades, a little papal diplomacy, and the background presence of character actors like Trevor Howard. His function in movies like this is to step forward in court from time to time, clear his throat, say, “My lady . . .” and then summarize the plot.

Historical dramas can be fun if you approach them in the right spirit, and I enjoyed “Mary, Queen of Scots” a lot more than “Anne of the Thousand Days.”

For one thing, the acting is better; Vanessa Redgrave is a tall, straight-backed, finely spirited Mary, and Glenda Jackson makes a perfectly shrewish, wise Elizabeth. That is a solid gain after “Anne,” with Genevieve Bujold’s gulping and Richard Burton’s hemming and hawing.

There are also neat tricks involving secret passages, murder conspiracies, double-crosses, spies from the Pope, bastard half-brothers and gunpowder blasts. The film’s ending, as it must be, is suitably solemn and dignified.

It’s always that way with historical movies. After two hours of galloping sex and court intrigue, the heroine makes her peace with God, thanks her faithful lady-in-waiting, and goes off to the guillotine.

Popular Blog Posts

Netflix’s The I-Land is Almost So Bad That You Should Watch It

A review of Netflix's The I-Land, the worst show in the streaming service's history.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Ken Burns' Country Music Series is Thought-Provoking, Joyful

The latest series from revered documentarian Ken Burns premieres on Sunday, September 15 on PBS.

TIFF 2019: Motherless Brooklyn, Anne at 13,000 Feet, The Moneychanger

On three films from TIFF, including the latest from Ed Norton.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus