Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom/USA, 1971. Universal Pictures, Hal Wallis Productions. Screenplay by John Hale. Cinematography by Christopher Challis. Produced by Hal B. Wallis. Music by John Barry. Production Design by Terence Marsh. Costume Design by Margaret Furse. Film Editing by Richard Marden. Academy Awards 1971. Golden Globe Awards 1971.
The most celebrated girlfight in western political history is the subject of Hal B. Wallis’ attempt to recapture the success of Anne of The Thousand Days two years earlier. Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave) is married to the King of France and loses him to illness, banished by his mother Catherine of Medici from the French court after his death. Returning to Scotland, she claims the throne that has been kept safe by her brother (Patrick McGoohan), then launches her campaign to take the throne of England that she believes is rightfully hers. The Protestant bastard who stands in her way, Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson, reprising role after the highly successful BBC miniseries the year before), is not someone to be trifled with, here presented as the more “masculine” strategic thinker while Mary follows her “feminine” whims and can’t help but fail. Elizabeth is happy to slap down this romantic little upstart who wants to take her throne, but she also rejects her court’s advice to put her to death, initiating a battle for power between the two of them that involves more folly than clean success. Sumptuously produced and kept on track by the lead performances, this film falters thanks to an overemphasis on Mary’s dealings with the men on her council and the complications of her subsequent two marriages; the heat comes from the back and forth between the two women, and it would have been a much more successful venture if it had kept them in better focus.