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Film / Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

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"If your head had matched your heart, I would be the one awaiting death."
Queen Elizabeth

Mary, Queen of Scots is a 1971 British biographical film directed by Charles Jarrott, about the strife between the two reigning queens on the British Isles in the late 16th century: Mary, Queen of Scots (Vanessa Redgrave) and Elizabeth, Queen of England (Glenda Jackson).

The movie won several awards and Jackson would reprise the role of Elizabeth in Elizabeth R. One of the last films produced by Hollywood veteran Hal Wallis. Also in the cast are Patrick McGoohan as James Stewart (1st Earl of Moray), Timothy Dalton as Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), Nigel Davenport as James Hepburn (4th Earl of Bothwell), Trevor Howard as Sir William Cecil, Daniel Massey as Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), and Ian Holm as David Riccio.

See also the 2018 film of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aloof Big Brother: The Earl of Moray, Mary's brother. He has ambitions to rule Scotland by supplanting his sister and opposes her marriage to Darnley because Darnley is Catholic and the Earl is a Protestant.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Or at least treacherous. The film is about the duel of wits between various aristocrats and royals, all of whom employ the most backstabbing tactics to get rid of those in their way.
  • Arranged Marriage: Mary and Francis I. Averted with her two subsequent husbands, since she married these for love.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The film presents two meetings between the queens. Mary and Elizabeth never met in real life.
    • Mary is depicted 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.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Strongly averted. After James is born, the marriage between his parents detoriates even further.
  • Black Widow: Mary is a rare heroic version. She stages the assassination of her husband, Lord Darnley but he was already planning her assassination, she just happened to be a lot smarter than him and in fact a generally better person.
  • Bury Your Gays: Darnley and Riccio are bisexual men who have sex and both die gruesomely, albeit in a manner that is historically accurate.
  • The Caligula: Darnley obtains power because of his marriage to a reigning queen and abuses his power by continuing to behave as the hedonistic, abusive, drunken lunatic he's always been. He's basically Caligula devoid of all wit, charisma and intelligence that the mad emperor at least possessed.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Mary refuses to beg for mercy to Elizabeth in public.
  • Depraved Bisexual: It's explicitely stated that before wooing and marrying Mary, Darnley had Italian courtier David Riccio as a lover, and Darnley is a spoiled asshole.
  • Domestic Abuser: Darnley who abuses and humiliates Mary publicly, even going so far as to try and rape her before fortunately he gets knocked out.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you know your history, you know it doesn't end well for Mary.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Even though Mary and Elizabeth are cousins.
  • Historical Domain Character: All of the characters.
  • Intermission: Part One ends with Darnley joining the conspirators.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Darnley forces Riccio to bow and kiss his hand after learning that Mary plans to propose to him. Elizabeth also vows to release Mary, so long as she acknowledges Elizabeth as queen. Elizabeth has no luck in this regard.
  • Last Chance to Quit: Elizabeth gives Mary one last chance to beg for mercy in public, but Mary refuses.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Being a movie about the reigning monarchs of the British Isles in the late 16th century, the female characters wear very splendid dresses.
  • Pretty in Mink: Mink coats are worn by some characters.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Mary's marriage to Bothwell is so unpopular that it hastens her downfall.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the first secret meeting between the two queens both of them give the other one of these. Mary also gives Darnley a brief but powerful one:
    Mary: You disgust me.
  • Royal Blood: Mary and Elizabeth's mutual claim to power.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • Elizabeth is very hand-on with the affairs of the realm, as befitting of the time.
    • Mary does things too, but her actions tend to worsen the situation in Scotland.
  • Second Love: Between Mary and her Scottish second husband.
  • Secret Relationship: Mary and Bothwell's relationship is secret, at first.
  • Sissy Villain / Screams Like a Little Girl: Darnley at times.
    Darnley: I am the KING! I will be oBEYED!
  • Smug Snake: Mary is a good version of this. Darnley is a straightforward example, in case you hadn't already guessed!
  • Unwanted Spouse: Darnley becomes this.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Elizabeth sending both Dudley and Darnley to Scotland. Either choice Mary chooses as a husband will help Elizabeth in the long term. "Win or lose the wager, I cannot lose the game."
    • If Mary accepts her offer and marries Dudley, then Elizabeth will be heartbroken to lose her true love, but one of her closest supporters will be married to her greatest rival, and their alliance will be safe.
    • If Mary scorns her offer and chooses to marry Darnley, the handsome, eligible Catholic lord in Dudley's entourage, she'll be saddling herself with a vicious, stupid husband who will drag her down in the long run.