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Film / Lady Jane

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Lady Jane is a 1986 film directed by Trevor Nunn.

It's a biopic of Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), famously Queen of England for nine days before she was overthrown and eventually executed. The film opens with Lady Jane (Helena Bonham Carter, in her first starring role) as a teenaged girl living in the gilded cage that is the British aristocracy. She seems to be fond of another teenager, King Edward VI, and and if things had worked out differently they might have been married. But as it happens, King Edward is sick. In fact, he's dying.

This presents a big problem to John Dudley, Lord President of the Council and the man running the country in Edward VI's minority. Not only will Dudley certainly lose power, as a Protestant he might well lose his life as the presumptive heir to the throne, Princess Mary, is Catholic. So in an effort to maintain his grip on the throne, he forces Lady Jane to marry his dissolute son Guilford (Cary Elwes). Jane and Guilford initially loathe each other, but their marriage soon turns into a love match.

Their blissful happiness is interrupted when King Edward VI finally does kick the bucket. That's when the second part of Dudley's plan comes into play. He produces a document that he badgered King Edward into signing, a document which bypassed Edward's sisters Mary and Elizabeth, in favor of Edward's cousin and great-granddaughter of Henry VII...Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane, only sixteen, is completely shocked when she is crowned Queen of England.

Things don't go well.

Patrick Stewart plays Jane's father, Henry Grey the Duke of Suffolk, who cooperates with Dudley to bully his daughter into marriage and place her on the throne.


  • Artistic License – History: Quite a bit.
    • The central theme of the tragic romance between Jane and Guilford is fictional. They barely knew each other and didn't spend that much time together before Jane was made queen. Also, their wedding night is well-documented - they didn't spend it together, as Guildford was violently ill with what historians now believe to be a bad case of food poisoning.
    • Guilford is made out to be a left-wing radical who wants to democratize England and give the people land and power and free schools. Jane enthusiastically backs him, and this is implied to be why the Council flips to supporting Mary. This is all fictional. In Real Life, it was simply a matter of the Council deciding that they had backed the wrong horse.
    • The 1554 rebellion was not to return Jane to power; the rebels supported Princess Elizabeth, the Protestant with a better claim. Nor did Spain demand Jane's execution as the price of Queen Mary's marriage to Prince Phillip, although it is true that the rebellion did lead Mary to execute Jane.
    • Then there's the whole idea that Dudley orchestrated the proclamation from a sick Edward VI passing over his sisters and designating Lady Jane Grey as his heir, strong-arming a dying king into signing. While that was commonly believed for a very long time, in reality King Edward himself was fully on board with bypassing his sisters and designating Jane. Mary was Catholic which ruled her out and Elizabeth's legitimacy was debatable which in Edward's eyes ruled her out too.
  • As You Know: One of the first scenes has Sir John Gates observe to Dudley that he's in charge now. Dudley wonders what he's in charge of, and then launches into a spiel where he tells Sir John a lot of things Sir John already knows about the House of Tudor and the political situation—King Edward, King Edward's two sisters, how Henry VIII's older sister married into the Scottish royal family and took herself out of the running, and where Lady Jane Grey fits in as granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister. He even breaks out a genealogical chart.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Subverted hard. Jane, who has no idea that her father-in-law has been plotting, looks around in a "who, me" manner after Dudley says the crown will go to "your Grace". She then tries to leave before her parents grab her and basically force her to walk to the throne. Then she's crying and saying she has "no right" as the crown is put on her head.
  • Berserk Button: Mary and her succession to the throne. Although she is compassionate to Jane and understands her innocence over Northumberland's scheme, she is rather cross over Jane temporarily supplanting her position.
  • Call-Back: When Jane's parents are expressing skepticism about Guilford, Dudley tells them "I can control him. He can be controlled." Jane's mother Frances spits these words back at Dudley as an emboldened Jane and Guilford have put forth their own program of political reform and upset Dudley's plans.
  • Downer Ending: Poor unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, a pawn manipulated by people who abused her, is executed.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • When Dudley is trying to sell his son Guilford to Jane's parents, he calls Guilford "a quiet and studious boy" and says that at the moment he's probably either at books or praying. The movie then cuts to Guilford playing dice and getting drunk in some seedy commoner tavern.
    • As they are enjoying wedded bliss and talking about going away and living somewhere as commoners, Guilford says ruefully, "I don't think my parents will let us stay like this." This is followed by Dudley's men arriving to take them back to London, to make Jane queen.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Sexually Active Today?: At their first meeting Guilford makes a point of telling Jane that he was pulled out of a bed he was sharing with a hooker in a brothel. Later, after Jane and Guilford make love for the first time, he admits that he was passed out drunk in the hooker's bed and, in fact, he was still a virgin when they got married.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Lady Jane Grey looked nothing like Helena Bonham Carter (except for being notably petite and slender). Contemporary accounts say that she was a mildly pretty redhead with freckles.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Lord Guilford Dudley. In the film, despite his bad boy persona, he's actually a virgin with a passion for social justice. While Guilford has a well-established historical reputation for being a jerkass, actual evidence indicates he was as much a helpless pawn as Jane herself. The film has him falling in love with Jane (and she with him). In reality they seem to have been willing to tolerate each other; Jane's real problem was with her new father-in-law. The story goes that Guildford requested a final interview with Jane before their executions which she refused on the grounds it would only upset them both.
  • Idiot Ball: Dudley executes a coup to bypass Mary and install his daughter-in-law as Queen of England...but he fails to put Mary in custody. Instead she escapes, raises an army in the span of a week, and takes power.
  • Ironic Echo: There are several:
    • Jane quotes Plato's word about the death of Socrates to Dr. Feckenhem. After Jane's execution, Feckenhem makes the quote in memory of her.
    • Jane argues with Feckenhem about the Catholic view of the holy wafer, smugly using contradictory examples. Later, when Feckenhem tries to convince Jane to convert to Catholicism (to save her life), Jane repeats her examples, this time in tears.
    • Northumberland promises Frances that Guilford can be controlled. Later, when Queen Jane and Guilford overrule and depose Northumberland of influence, Frances repeats his previous words in sarcasm.
    • Before they are summoned to court for the coronation, Guilford and Jane make a plan to run away where no one can touch them. Later, in their last hour together before their executions, they repeat their words, believing their fate will achieve their wish.
  • Karma Houdini: Frances.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Jane usually has her hair under ornate 16th-century hats, or done up into a bun. But after she and Guilford fall in love, she lets her long hair hang loose.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Jane lives in luxury but her life is not particularly pleasant. Her father belittles her fondness for books, insulting her in front of the whole court and implying that she should be spending more time seducing Edward VI. Her mother savagely canes her when Jane refuses to get married. When Dr. Feckenham the priest is impressed by the pleasure Jane takes in reading Plato in Greek, she tearfully says "It is my only pleasure."
  • Marriage Before Romance: Jane and Guilford are forced into marriage against their will, and Guilford gets so drunk he passes out on the wedding night. They then fall in love.
  • Match Cut: There's a match cut between the ax swinging to chop Somerset's head off, to Sir John Gates shaking dust off his cloak as he reports back to Dudley.
  • Off with His Head!: The film begins with the decapitation of Edward VI's uncle the Duke of Somerset, which allowed Dudley to take power. It ends with Lady Jane getting decapitated.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Guilford rows Jane down a river as part of the falling-in-love montage.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: After a rocky start Jane's and Guilford's becomes one. This backfires on Dudley when, together, Jane and Guilford prove harder to control.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: When Henry Grey goes off to start a rebellion to free his daughter, Jane's mother Frances tries to talk him out of it, pointing out that "We. Are. Alive." Henry ignores her and gets both himself and Jane executed.
  • Royal "We": Edward uses it, saying stuff like "We would like to speak, madam, to our cousin Jane alone." Jane also uses it when she actually tries to assert power during her extremely brief reign.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of this movie is fictionalized, but the bit at Jane's execution where she can't find the block to grab on to because she's blindfolded comes directly from history.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Dudley is shown in the movie reacting to news that Mary will pardon anyone who returns to Catholicism, by saying "Hail Mary" and crossing himself. The viewer might assume that Dudley the duplicitous weasel saved his skin. In fact, while Dudley did embrace the Catholic faith again, he was still executed.
  • Succession Crisis: An extremely messy one, with King Edward kicking the bucket while still a teenager and without children, leaving behind a Catholic sister (in newly Protestant England) and a Protestant sister (who may not be legitimate), and a letter disinheriting them both and designating a cousin that nobody in the country's even heard of.
  • The Talk: Averted, as Jane's governess only has time to say "My lady, are you sure you understand—", before Jane cuts her off and goes into her bridal bed with Guilford.
  • Time-Passes Montage: A love montage shows Jane and Guilford going on an Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date, and horseback riding, and doing other romantic stuff, before Dudley's people come and ruin everything.
  • Young Future Famous People: Technically she was already famous, being a princess and all...but Elizabeth Tudor is seen as a teenager at King Edward's court, playing with a doll, long before anyone imagined that she might become queen.
    • That girl might be Katherine, Jane’s sister.