Mary, Queen of Scots (film)

Mary, Queen of Scots (film)
Mary, Queen of Scots

Original theatrical poster
Directed by Charles Jarrott
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by John Hale
Starring Vanessa Redgrave
Glenda Jackson
Timothy Dalton
Nigel Davenport
Patrick McGoohan
Trevor Howard
Ian Holm
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Editing by Richard Marden
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) December 1971
Running time 128 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Mary, Queen of Scots is a 1971 Universal Pictures biographical film based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Leading an all-star cast are Vanessa Redgrave as the titular character and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. In the same year, Jackson played the part of Elizabeth in the TV drama Elizabeth R.

The screenplay was written by John Hale and the film directed by Charles Jarrott. Like the play by Friedrich Schiller and the opera by Gaetano Donizetti, it takes considerable liberties with history in order to achieve increased dramatic effect, in particular two fictitious face-to-face encounters between the two Queens (who never met in real life). The film received a less than enthusiastic review from the New York Times, but was nominated for several awards.



Following the death of her husband Francis II of France, Mary, Queen of Scots (Vanessa Redgrave) returns to her native land. As in neighbouring England, the Protestant faith has been embraced by many nobles of Scotland; in addition, the Catholic Mary has to deal with her half-brother James Stewart, Lord Moray's (Patrick McGoohan) ambitions for rule. He suggests that she should be a figurehead.

Fearing that Mary has ambitions for England's throne, Elizabeth I of England (Glenda Jackson) decides to weaken her claim by sending her favourite, the ambitious Robert Dudley (Daniel Massey), to woo and marry Mary. She promises that Mary will become her heir if she agrees to the marriage. Elizabeth also sends the younger, dashing but weak Lord Darnley (Timothy Dalton), from a powerful Catholic family. As she expected, Mary becomes enamoured of Darnley and chooses him for marriage. Lord Moray, a Protestant, opposes the marriage, but Mary proceeds. She exiles Moray to strengthen her own authority. Elizabeth is satisfied that Mary's coping with trouble in Scotland will give her less to worry about.

Soon after the wedding, Darnley tries to enforce his intention to rule, rather than act as King Consort. Mary will not have her authority questioned. The situation deteriorates as Mary frequently consults with the Italian courtier David Riccio (Ian Holm). Darnley had previously had him as a lover and accuses him of fathering Mary's expected child.

A group of Scottish lords persuade Darnley to help get rid of Riccio, whom they murder in Mary's presence. To escape, she persuades Darnley that the plotters will turn against him, and they flee to the safety of Lord Bothwell (Nigel Davenport). He has been an ally of Mary since her arrival in Scotland. After he defeats the plotters, Mary forces a truce among their leader Moray, Darnley and Bothwell. Mary gives birth to a son, James, who is expected to succeed both Mary and the unmarried, childless Elizabeth.

The peace is short-lived. Darnley still wants power, has had affairs with both men and women, and contracted syphilis (the pox). Mary turns to a deeper relationship with Bothwell. With Moray's help, they arrange for Darnley to be killed in a gunpowder explosion at his manor. Bothwell marries Mary, but Moray rejoins the Scottish lords and leads a rebellion against them. He forces Mary to abdicate, and she and her husband are led into exile, Mary to England and Bothwell to Denmark. Mary's young son James is to be crowned King of Scotland (although Moray will effectively rule for years) and raised as a Protestant.

In England, Mary tries to persuade Elizabeth to give her money and an army in order to reclaim her throne. Elizabeth refuses and keeps her prisoner. Elizabeth's closest advisor, Sir William Cecil (Trevor Howard), is anxious to get rid of Mary. Elizabeth fears to set a precedent by putting an anointed monarch to death, as well as to provoke a rebellion by her Catholic subjects and cause problems with Scotland, France and Spain.

With the help of his associate Walsingham (Richard Warner), Cecil finds evidence of Mary's involvement in the Babington Plot. Finally Elizabeth confronts Mary, who does not deny conspiring to kill her. Although Elizabeth offers her mercy if she begs for forgiveness, Mary will not beg for mercy in public. She endures the trial, conviction and execution. She knows her son James will ultimately succeed to the English throne.

Historical liberties

For dramatic effect, the film presents two meetings between the queens, although they never met in life. Moreover, the film depicts Mary as enjoying a late-morning cup of hot chocolate in bed (and even requesting it when she is a prisoner) when this was not a popular drink in the British Isles until well into the 18th century.


Production notes

The film was shot in France (Château de Chenonceau), Scotland, and England. The song in the opening sequence, "Vivre et Mourir," is sung by Redgrave.[1] The lyrics are taken from a sonnet written by Mary, Queen of Scots.[2]


Vincent Canby had little good to say about the film in the New York Times of 4 February 1972, describing it as "a loveless, passionless costume drama". He wrote, "Unfortunately there is no excitement whatsoever in what Charles Jarrott, the director, and John Hale, the author of the original screenplay, have put together...Mary, Queen of Scots intends, I assume, to illuminate history...yet all it's really doing is touching bases, like a dull, dutiful student...Because both Miss Redgrave and Miss Jackson possess identifiable intelligence, [the film] is not as difficult to sit through as some bad movies I can think of. It's just solemn, well-groomed and dumb."[3]

Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars and lauded the interpretation of Redgrave and Jackson, noting however the "soap opera" approach to the script. [4]

Awards and nominations

Mary, Queen of Scots was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Vanessa Redgrave), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Terence Marsh, Robert Cartwright, Peter Howitt), Best Costume Design, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Sound (Bob Jones, John Aldred).[5][6]

The film received several Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama (Glenda Jackson), Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama (Vanessa Redgrave), Best Original Score (John Barry), and Best Screenplay (John Hale).

2007 Remake

It was announced in May 2007 that Scarlett Johansson was attached to a remake, directed by John Curran.[7] But, in November 2008 it was reported that the film had yet to be given the green light, with neither finance nor casting having been approved by the Irish Film Board.[8]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Laign, Malcom. The History of Scotland: From the Union of the Crowns on the Accession of James VI. to the Throne of England, to the Union of the Kingdoms in the Reign of Queen Anne. J. Mawman, 1804
  3. ^ New York Times: Mary, Queen of Scots
  4. ^ "Mary, Queen of Scots". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  5. ^ "The 44th Academy Awards (1972) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-28. 
  6. ^ "NY Times: Mary, Queen of Scots". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  7. ^ Bartyzel, Monika (2007-05-17). "Scarlett Johansson is Still Mary Queen of Scots". Cinematical (Weblogs). Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  8. ^ Last, Jane (2008-11-25). "Amy Adams is on her way to Dublin for Leap Year proposal". (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 2008-12-09. 

External links

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