Directed by: Charles Jarrott (Anne of a Thousand Days))
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton
In order to convince us of its importance before it even gets started, Charles Jarrott’s Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) assaults us with an overture by composer John Barry. It doesn’t sound much like Barry, but rather it sounds like any of those trumpet-blasts-and-timpani outbursts the BBC slaps on period dramas. And it’s not through with us, since it pops up whenever anything important happens and during the intermission. (The movie’s not really long enough to need an intermission, but it’s impressive to have one.) Despite these best efforts to sap the very life from the viewer, Mary, Queen of Scots turns out to be a much livelier affair than you might imagine — as long as you take it as high-toned soap. It has intrigue. It has secret passages. It has all sorts of illicit romance, duplicity, plotting, murder and of course — a beheading. (You may be sure that the last is decorous.) It also has an array of nice costumes and an even larger collection of dodgy wigs. But best of all, it has Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson as Mary and Elizabeth, respectively. These fine actresses play their roles for all they’re worth — and then squeeze a few more drops out. History tells us Mary and Elizabeth never met, but that doesn’t stop the film from correcting that dramatic oversight — twice. Redgrave may get top billing and the title role, but Jackson has the showier turn. (I particularly liked her beating up on Daniel Massey.) The rest of the cast is good and certainly game. Timothy Dalton and Ian Holm — as Mary’s suitor/husband and adviser, respectively — also have a surprisingly frank romance of their own going on. Trevor Howard gets special billing — with a box around his name — but whether this is because of his prestige, or the fact that he’s always on-hand when anything needs declaiming, I don’t know.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Mary, Queen of Scots Sunday, Nov. 10, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Well, it does boast two of the greatest — possibly the greatest — actresses of 1960s and 70s British film in Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, but let’s be honest, this is a thoroughly respectable British prestige picture from the folks who brought you the even more respectable Anne of a Thousand Days (1969). While Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) is decidedly more lively — and better acted — it’s still the kind of picture you think it is. And you know it ends badly.