Mary Stuart returns to Scotland to rule as queen, to the chagrin of Elizabeth I of England who finds her a dangerous rival. There is much ado over whom Mary shall marry; to her later regret, she picks effete Lord Darnley over the strong but unpopular Earl of Bothwell. A palace coup leads to civil war and house arrest for Mary; she escapes and flees to England, where a worse fate awaits her.
Katharine Hepburn ... Mary Queen of Scots
Fredric March ... Earl of Bothwell
Florence Eldridge ... Queen Elizabeth I
Douglas Walton ... Lord Darnley
John Carradine ... David Rizzio
Robert Barrat ... Lord Morton
Gavin Muir ... Earl of Leicester
Ian Keith ... James Stuart, Earl of Moray
Moroni Olsen ... John Knox
William Stack ... Lord Ruthven
Ralph Forbes ... Lord Randolph
Alan Mowbray ... Lord Throckmorton
Director: John Ford / Leslie Goodwins (uncredited)
MARY OF SCOTLAND, caught up in intrigues over which she has no control, finds herself at the mercy of powerful forces that wish her ill.
John Ford crafted this meticulous, thoughtful study into the life of the Scottish Queen and the trials & tribulations which buffeted her. With a complicated plot and a very large cast, the film presupposes a certain amount of intelligence on the part of its viewers, as well as an interest in the history of Great Britain. The film is not easy to watch - this is, after all, an historical drama, not a musical comedy - but the viewer's attention should be paid off in the end. Very fine production values also help greatly in the movie's appreciation.
Katharine Hepburn is luminous & regal in the title role. Continuing in the tradition of formidable actresses of the 1930's who played queens on the screen (Colbert, Garbo, Dietrich, Shearer, Robson, Davis) Hepburn gives a strong portrayal of the stubborn, independently minded Scottish monarch. Kate makes the viewer at once feel an engaging interest in this poor lady, so beset by ‘the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune.' Wisely not speaking in a brogue - the real Mary probably didn't either - Hepburn uses her remarkable face & voice to make this long-dead historical figure come alive.
As the Earl of Bothwell, Mary's 3rd husband, Fredric March provides a sturdy hero worth cheering. Here is a man willing to confront any danger for the sake of the woman he loves. If the real Bothwell was perhaps not quite so noble, no matter. March breathes vibrant, pulsing life into the character and embodies him with real strengths & virtues.
A large & exceptional cast give fine support to the principals. Some deserve special mention:
John Carradine as Mary's tragic Italian secretary, Rizzio; Douglas Walton as Lord Darnley, Mary's repugnant 2nd husband; Ian Keith as her unscrupulous half-brother, the Lord Moray. Florence Eldridge stands out in her portrayal of the conflicted Queen Elizabeth.
Moroni Olsen as a fiery John Knox; Donald Crisp as a loyal old laird; Ralph Forbes & Alan Mowbray as Elizabeth's ambassadors; and dear old Mary Gordon as a baby nurse - all have their brief moments to shine.
Lionel Belmore & Doris Lloyd (with an unbilled Bobs Watson as their son) play poor fisher folk who give Mary much needed succor. Ivan Simpson & Nigel de Brulier play two of the wicked English judges who condemn Mary to death.
But it is Hepburn the viewer remembers longest. Her shining eyes & majestic mien remain in the mind for a very long time
The circumstances surrounding the murder of David Rizzio are so well documented that it is somewhat surprising that Ford did not stick more scrupulously to the facts. Darnley and his fellow conspirators entered the Queen's apartments via a private, narrow staircase, hidden in the wall, which communicated directly with Mary's rooms. There is no indication that her bodyguard troops were slain as well, as the film depicts.
The script is at pains to keep the Earl of Bothwell a noble hero and uninvolved in Darnley's murder. However, there's little doubt of Bothwell's guilt in the affair. Darnley was not killed outright by the massive explosion - rather he was found, terribly hurt but still alive, lying in a nearby field. He was quickly strangled.
The movie does not make clear that it was in Denmark where Bothwell died in prison in 1578. Mary had divorced him in 1570.
Unlike the relatively short time depicted in the film, Mary was actually a captive of Elizabeth for 19 years, outliving Bothwell by nine years. Elizabeth & Mary never met - it makes good film drama, but it didn't happen.
Mary of Scotland is not based on the exact historical record, but on Maxwell Anderson's play. However Anderson was trying to dramatize the difference between Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart. Elizabeth was first and foremost a queen who put her passions on hold when it was a choice between them and the country she governed. Mary Stuart was totally incapable of doing that.
Interesting that Katharine Hepburn played Mary. Hepburn who was probably the liberated woman of the 20th century would have been a natural to play Queen Elizabeth. Too bad in fact she didn't in her career. But she does fine her as Mary. Florence Eldridge plays a cold, calculating Elizabeth. Fredric March as Lord Bothwell is not the hero he's shone to be here.
One thing about Scotland in the 16th century. The kingdom had the unbelievable rotten luck of having a whole succession of minority rulers with regencies for a couple hundred years. The nobles who are depicted here are quite used to having their own way. And when Mary abdicated the throne it went to still another regency when her infant son James became king.
Ian Keith's part as Hepburn's illegitimate half brother the Earl of Moray is an interesting one. In history, I've always thought of him as the real hero. He gave Mary sound advice which had she taken, she would have died on the throne of Scotland.
Vanessa Redgrave's later film shows how the exiled Mary Stuart got tricked into a conspiracy to bring Elizabeth down. I wish that had been done here. She was essentially AbScammed.
Elizabeth and Mary never met in real life, but for dramatic purposes it had to happen here.
It's a good film, not one of the best for any of the principals in the cast or for John Ford. Still it's an interesting piece of cinema although some knowledge of Scottish history might help.
I write this at the time they are celebrating Katherine Hepburn's 100th Birthday with an onslaught of many of her very early films on a popular channel that deals with Classic Movies. As I have never seen these, I have to say that I am actually very impressed, entertained, even irritated by her.
There was something about Katherine Hepburn. She had Sharp Edges, or did she? Like Brando, she does not act, she behaves. But in her case unlike Brando who just seemed to be "born with it," it has been shown that Hepburn developed her talent by sheer force of will: Which she imposes on you, like it or not, in the entire body of her work.
Of all of those early films from the 30's- Maybe I did not enjoy this as much as some of the others from that time, but I was forced to stand up and give notice. This was certainly an appropriate role for her, and magnificently portrayed. As she would drawl... "How Marvelous!" Now to get down to the specifics of this film starting with the ironies: Frederick March portrays The 4th Earl of Bothwell, James Hepburn. I wonder if this was an ancestor? However, there were no living offspring between Bothwell and Mary Stuart.
I have not researched all of the events this film was based upon, some historical accounts obviously paint Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart in various lights. Florence Eldridge is an excellent Elizabeth - Almost as good as Bette Davis' version but not so much over the top as Davis. March's portrayal of the person named Bothwell in the film... The impression is given that he would have used the flat of his blade to spank Douglas Walton/Lord Darnley, who plays the role of Henry Stuart/Lord Darnley in a very effeminate manner. John Carradine is superb... Even his coarse singing, and the manner of his demise in the film is fairly similar to what historically occurred. I also have to point out that David Carradine did not inherit John's singing voice (Refer to the film, "Bound for Glory" http://imdb.com/title/tt0074235/). There is greatness, is that small part of David Rizzio: A future Black Hat in development, and one of the best, as seen in John Ford's "Stagecoach" Which brings us to Alan Mowbray, as a very slimy Throckmorton, Ambassador to Scotland/Puppet and stooge to Elizabeth. Excellent: The Perennial bad guy. Moroni Olsen as a very Rasputin-ish John Knox, very Lionel Barrymore-ish, emitting a malevolent evil, and I will not go into how much like Television Evangelists of s certain stripe he is like: Not all of them, but some of them. And just about every character actor in Hollywood had a role in this film, which in typical Ford style, is Epic.
And of course finally we have to acknowledge Donald Crisp as Lord Huntley, a very brief role, and not quite accurately portrayed: Mary actually joined with the Earl of Moray to destroy the man in real life. The way it sets on film, does not explain Mary's lack of support in the last part of her life: But it seems she upset the Catholic Church quite a bit. I want to say this this part was slightly miscast... I do not see one of the future owners of Lassie as a Scottish "Laird" However complicated the story of Mary Stuart is, this film tries to deal with some of the convolutions of that life. Bothwell actually did rot away in Denmark, and Darnley, if not shown directly to have an illness in the film, does indeed deteriorate- And also is shown "Playing King" a couple of times and the real Darnley was known to do.
It has been said that John Ford did not consider that this was the kind of movie he was used to making, and maybe handed over the directing of some of the scenes to Hepburn: In fact in one documentary Hepburn admits that Ford walked out of the studio and let her direct the scene with March in the Tower.
All of these items being case or not, this is still a great film, and an important film, with great acting. It has to be considered that the 1930's were the Hollywood in it's infancy- Or at least adolescence. Many kinds of stories were made into film, some done justice and some not.
Even if this particular story of Mary, Queen of Scots is not being told correctly, and of course in this film there was the Hollywood-isation of the story: I would say that the real life and Reign of Mary Stuart is one of the most interesting historical topics and itself reads like a James Michener book, and as a platform for Katherine Hepburn to display her multiple talents, suits her well indeed.
* Katharine Hepburn, who played Queen Mary, is actually a distant relative of the Earl Of Bothwell, whose family name was, in fact, Hepburn.
* The play opened in New York City, New York, USA on 27 November 1933 and had 248 performances. The title role was played by Helen Hayes and the cast also included Moroni Olsen, who repeated his role as John Knox in the 1936 film version, Edgar Barrier (Lord Douglas), Ernest Cossart (Lord Throgmorton) and George Coulouris (Lord Burghley). The play was written in blank verse.
* Both Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis were interested in playing Elizabeth. Director John Ford wanted Tallulah Bankhead for the part, but Florence Eldridge. Fredric March's real-life wife, won the part
* Contrary to the play and the film, Mary and Elizabeth never met.
* According to A. Scott Berg's memoir "Kate Remembered", Katharine Hepburn was already chosen for Mary but they had trouble casting Elizabeth. At one point Hepburn, who had by then been nicknamed "Katharine of Arrogance", suggested that she play both roles. Supporting player John Carradine asked, "But if you played both queens, how would you know which one to upstage?" She was not amused at the time but roared with laughter when retelling the story years later.
* According to Katharine Hepburn, during the filming of Mary and Bothwell's love scene, John Ford, rather fed up with the idea of directing a romantic costume drama written in blank verse, simply said to Hepburn, "Here; you direct this scene." And she did.
* Katharine Hepburn wanted George Cukor as director, but after the failure of Sylvia Scarlett (1935), producer Pandro S. Berman refused to let them work together again.
* E.E. Clive is listed in casting records for the role of Burghley, but that role was played by Lionel Pape
* Moroni Olsen was the only member of the original Broadway cast of the play to repeat his role in the film version.
* Ginger Rogers was tested for the role of Queen Elizabeth I.
* According to Katharine Hepburn's autobiography "Me", director John Ford lost interest in the film when he discovered that the plot was not particularly strong. She recalls one day Ford announced that he was leaving early and would allow Hepburn to direct a scene with Fredric March. Hepburn feared that March would not listen to direction from her, but when he acquiesced she directed her first and only scene.
* Katharine Hepburn credited John Ford with saving her life one day on the set. They were shooting a scene of Hepburn on horseback when the horse she was riding kept going unexpectedly. Ford yelled at Hepburn to duck just before she was about to collide with a low branch.
For more info on Classic Movies, or to make requests, please go to http://www.classiccinemazone.com