Oh, Mary. Mary, Mary, Mary. As I said in a previous blog, she wasn’t a bad person, she was just woefully unsuited for her job. Poor woman. She probably would have made a fine royal consort (and she did, in fact, when she was married to the French king), but she just didn’t have the firm hand needed to rule a country like Scotland. Or any country, really. So, she crashed and burned and, over the years, got romanticized all over the place. There have been plenty of movies made about her, but only one has Vanessa Redgrave in it: Mary, Queen of Scots. There’s talk of a remake with Scarlett Johansson, which I really hope won’t happen, because I like this one the way it is. Joining Vanessa in an impressive cast are Ian Holm, Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton, and, of course, Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. It didn’t get great reviews, but it got nominated for a lot of awards because, as we know, corsets = Oscars.
We start off at the lovely French Chateau de Chenonceau, where servants are scurrying about and a pretty blonde lady (Mary—and man, I didn’t realize just how much Joley Richardson looked like her mother until now) is begging a feverish looking young man (Francois, already king of France) not to go out for a ride. He must already be in the throes of that brain fever that eventually did him in. He shakes her off and gallops away. Two of Mary’s ladies join her and urge her to come inside, but she refuses, instead sending for a chair and settling down in the courtyard to wait for Francois to return. An intimidating looking man watches the whole scene from the back of his horse, just standing there in a corner of the courtyard. When everyone leaves her, Mary begins to pray for God to take her as well, if he decides to take Francois.
Her sad reverie is interrupted by the watching man, who dismounts and introduces himself as Lord Bothwell, sent by the regent of Scotland, Mary’s half brother James. Mary’s a bit confused, because her mother’s supposed to be regent. Bothwell very bluntly informs her that her mother is dead. He drops his voice and tells her Scotland’s in chaos and she needs to be there. Instead of booking passage, Mary again calls out for her husband, who’s lying dead by some picturesque riverbank somewhere, as if the mortally ill King of France could just go galloping around the countryside on a whim all alone like that, even back then.
Mary’s formidable mother-in-law, Catherine d’Medici, flat out blames Mary for Francois’s death, even as Mary keeps a veiled vigil over her husband’s body. Mary defends herself really weakly but Catherine ignores her, declares herself regent for the new king, who’s underage, and informs the lords hovering nearby that, if they don’t go along with this plan, she’ll exile them from France. You don’t mess with an Italian lady, boys.
Catherine leaves, and Mary immediately runs over to one of the lords, her brother James, and begs him for advice. He tells her he’ll take her back to Scotland, where she’ll rule as queen. Mary frets over whether the Scots will accept her (she moved to France when she was very young and was raised there). James and another lord reassure her the people will love her. A cardinal, who also happens to be Mary’s uncle (on her mother’s side—her mother was a member of the French de Guise family) pipes up that she absolutely won’t be leaving France, but Mary insists, because she can’t just sit around in France for the rest of her life. She’ll head back to Scotland and make a new start with her cousin Elizabeth to the south and her Protestant subjects. Her plan is to travel to Scotland through England, so she can swing by Elizabeth’s for a visit and chat.
Elizabeth is not keen on this idea at all, and threatens to use force to keep Mary from returning to Scotland. One of her advisors tells her that’s not a good idea, because if they piss her off, her Catholic uncles in France will raise an army, which could be a significant threat to Protestant England. Better to let Mary go to Scotland and be made subordinate to a Protestant country and court. Elizabeth doesn’t see what would stop Mary from bringing a Catholic army anyway, but James (he really gets around, doesn’t he? Wasn’t he just in France?) reassures her he’s devoted to maintaining peace between England and Scotland, and he’ll be the real power behind the throne. Elizabeth allows Mary to return to Scotland, but won’t let her come through England.
Mary’s preparing to leave France as her uncle, the Duc de Guise, rides up and hands her a giant letter from Elizabeth that refuses Mary safe conduct through England and orders her to renounce her claim to the English throne (which she held through her grandmother, Princess Margaret, a daughter of Henry VII). The cardinal and another clergyman join them and urge her not to renounce her claim, since she’s the true claimant to the throne, in the eyes of Catholic Europe (since the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was never recognized). Mary grins, tears up the letter, and kisses her uncle the Duke.
The cardinal next introduces the other clergyman as Father Ballard, an Englishman who will be serving as her new confessor. He also introduces David Rizzio (a very young Ian Holm), a singer and musician from Italy who’s later going to regret this particular career move. Rizzio kneels at her feet and tells her he’s traveled a long way to serve her.
Mary, the Cardinal, and the Duke break off to have a private pedeconference. The Cardinal tells her the priest will be a devoted servant, and the Duke chimes in to tell her Rizzio is an agent of the pope who can be a message conduit within Mary’s protestant court. I’m sure that won’t end up causing problems for him at all.
Bothwell, apparently, is in charge of getting the carriages packed, and he shouts at some of the servants until Mary tells him to pipe down and stop swearing. Instead of doing so, he tells her to get used to it, because this is how the Scots talk. Really? Are they all loutish, rude, and condescending, Bothwell? I’ve been to Scotland, and I don’t remember that being the case.
Mary informs Bothwell they’ll be sailing directly to Scotland, instead of going through England. He says it’ll be rough, but she shrugs that she’s not afraid of the sea. He helps her into her carriage and tells her she’ll have white horses waiting for her when she arrives, so she can ride in triumph into Edinburgh. She asks once again if the people will love her, and he answers her question with a question—will she rule the lords, or will they rule her? Mary, of course, says she’ll do the ruling, and he kisses her hand and wishes her a fair journey before mounting up. The entourage leaves, watched by a triumphant Catherine d’Medici. Mary waves to her uncles and bids her adopted country farewell.
James is still in England, showing one of Elizabeth’s advisors a map and telling him where he can have Bothwell’s ship captured. The Englishman isn’t excited by the prospect of capturing Bothwell and potentially provoking the French, but James says that Bothwell must be kept away from the Scottish court if James is to have any control over it.
Mary’s impressive galleon-like ship arrives on Scottish shores at last, and soon enough a team of horsemen appear on the bluff above and ride down to greet her. One of them is James, who welcomes her to Scotland. She asks him where everyone else is, and he tells her that she’s a bit earlier than expected. She shrugs it off, figuring her canopy and carpet will be along soon, but there will be no such things, because Scotland has no extra cash to spend on ceremony. Mary looks abashed but puts on a happy face and greets the Lords of the Congregation graciously and names James her chief minister. James shows no pleasure in the appointment, just calls forth Mary’s horses. They aren’t the ones she expected—apparently hers were on Bothwell’s ship and, therefore, taken by the English, along with him. Mary quickly calls him on the fact that he knows a little too much about Bothwell’s capture, but James brushes her off and climbs back on his horse.
In England, grooms are exercising Mary’s horses as Elizabeth watches, urging them on delightedly. She notices another rider approaches and gets her serious face on. He dismounts in front of her and she greets him as “Robin,” so this is clearly Robert Dudley. In a rush, he tells her his wife’s death has been declared an accident. She smiles and welcomes his back to court, even giving him the apartments above her own. He immediately asks her to marry him, but she tells him it’s a no go. He acts all bratty about it but she tells him to suck it up and take care of Mary’s horses.
The subject of Mary puts a thought into Elizabeth’s head: why not marry Robert off to the pretty royal widow?
Up north, Mary waves to some peasants as she and her entourage ride past, heading toward Holyrood. They pause to look at the palace, off in the distance, and just then a man dressed head to toe in black, walking up the bluff above her, shouts down that God struck down her mother, and he’ll strike her down too. Mary asks James who the guy is and learns it’s John Knox, leader of the Scottish church. Knox continues to yell down at her like a jerk, telling her he prayed for her death. Quite the welcome wagon she’s gotten here. Mary refuses to be cowed and sits and listens as the guy rails on, until James gets her moving again.
Once at the palace, Mary accuses James of having embarrassed her. He suggests she be a bit more discreet about her religion, and she poutily asks who’s going to rule here, exactly? He lays it out for her: he’ll be the one in charge, and she’ll just be the public face of the monarchy. He goes over to a corner of the room and shows her a secret way to the royal apartments, which she seems delighted to discover. She’s not quite so excited when she sees the size of her apartments, though she manages to cover up her disappointment rather quickly. James shows her the dining room and her presence chamber, telling her he’ll bring the rest of the lords by later for a meeting and ordering her to consult him on all matters. He warns Mary’s priest to stay out of sight as much as possible, and not to provoke any of the lords. She smiles as he leaves, but once he’s gone, she rages over his treatment of her to Rizzio and the priest. Rizzio suggests she get James to trust her, and if that doesn’t work, to find a husband with power and a Catholic army to back her up and help her invade England. Mary likes the sound of that.
Elizabeth does not. She has all the ambassadors at her court gathered so she can tell them that the marriage of any of their masters to Mary will be regarded as an act of war against England. They all protest but she shuts them up and proposes her own suitor for Mary’s hand: Robert, who will be made Earl of Leicester, to make him a sweeter prospect.
Elizabeth sweeps into her dining room for lunch, and her advisor (I’m guessing it’s Lord Burghley) listens to the ruckus the ambassadors are raising in the next room and promptly predicts Mary won’t take Robert, who’s essentially a commoner no matter how many titles Elizabeth gives him. Robert whines about the proposed match as well, although he does say he likes the idea more now he knows Burghley’s opposed to it. Heh. Robert declares his love for Elizabeth, and she urges him to marry Mary, if he loves her so much, so he can keep her safe from assassins Mary might promote. As a further sweetener, Elizabeth will send Mary a promise to make her heir to the English throne, if she takes Robert. She sends Robert to prepare for his journey and Burghley sighs that she’ll regret this decision. Elizabeth doubts it, because she doesn’t really intend for Mary to go for Robert at all; she has a different husband in mind for Mary. This is just step one in some clever plan.
Some time later, Burghley’s admitted to the cell where Bothwell’s being held. Bothwell correctly identifies Burghley as the guy who “gives gold to Scottish traitors.” Burghley tells Bothwell he’ll be released, as long as he takes an important message to Mary.
That message is the deed of succession, in which Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the rightful heir to the English throne. Bothwell reads it over and notes there’s no signature. Elizabeth promises to sign it after Mary takes Robert for a husband. Along with news of this document, Elizabeth wants Bothwell to take Lord Henry Darnley to Scotland, to bear her personal gifts to Mary. Those gifts? Mary’s own horses. How…generous?
Conveniently enough, Darnley is a member of one of England’s oldest Catholic families and has a strong claim to the English throne. He’s played by Timothy Dalton in blonde hair he should never, ever try again. Elizabeth sees him and Bothwell off, and as they gallop away, she wagers Burghley 50 gold crowns Mary takes Darnley in a second. Burghley won’t take the bet, because this is too important a matter to gamble over. Elizabeth marvels at the fact that she knows Mary so well, despite not having ever met her. She knows well enough that no woman will take her rival’s castoff as a husband, which I guess would be true of anyone, not just Mary. If Mary goes for Darnley, she’ll have no strong supporter by her side, but if she goes for Robert after all, England will be safe from foreign invasion, so it’s a win-win for Elizabeth, really.
Darnley makes it up to Scotland with the horses, and under the distant watchful eye of James, he and Mary gallop up and down the beach, laughing like children. Darnley proves to be about the worst horseman ever by falling off when his horse hops over a tiny obstacle. Mary jumps off her horse and runs over, panicking when she sees he’s unconscious. She dips a handkerchief in the sea and urges him not to move, as he comes around. She presses the handkerchief to his head and he notices she’s crying. She excuses it as just sadness over the memory of Francois’s death and hurries away to collect her horse. Robert watches from the castle too, looking pissed.
Shortly thereafter, Robert returns to England and bursts into Elizabeth’s bedroom to angrily announce that Mary’s rejected him, all the while parading around with Darnley. Elizabeth starts out innocently asking questions about Mary’s skills at music and dancing and Robert makes the singular mistake of not putting Mary down at all, which just pisses Elizabeth off and earns him a good belt to the stomach. She sighs that he’s played his part well and it’s her loss that she’s rejected him. They start to fight again, and she roughly kicks him out, then prays that Mary will marry Darnley and secure Elizabeth’s victory.
Northward, Darnley’s stretched out in bed, pawing through some jewelry. He sits up and we see that Rizzio’s sitting in the bed with him, both of them looking suspiciously dishabille. It seems these two have gotten very close indeed, and Darnley quickly reveals himself to be a bit of an entitled brat, as he tells Rizzio he deserves to be King of Scotland. Rizzio’s not interested in helping him, because he cares about Mary and thinks it would be cruel to put Darnley “between her sheets.” Darnley snorts that Rizzio wants to keep him between his own sheets, but Rizzio shoots that down by saying there are plenty of pretty boys around to fill that spot. They both look sad for a moment, then Rizzio reminds Darnley that they’re both outcasts at the court, and nobody likes them except each other, so they need to stick together.
Their couple time is interrupted by a guard announcing Mary’s approach. Darnley hurries out and Rizzio pretends to be working on something as she comes in. She sits down and asks for his advice on a marriage to Darnley. He doesn’t really have much to say, but Mary’s too blissed out to notice. She’s in love, you see, and has all these fantasies about how things are going to be just peachy, and Darnley will be happy to simply be her consort. She worries about the Lords not liking Darnley, but Rizzio says they’d hate any foreigner. Darnley, meanwhile, is listening to the whole conversation from behind a tapestry. As soon as Mary goes, he makes it seem like he’d left the room and came back once she was gone. He casually asks if Mary often visits Rizzio at night and Rizzio snaps at him to not be so vulgar.
Rizzio, proving where his loyalties truly lie, tells Darnley that, if he’s going to speak to Mary on his behalf, he must promise always to acknowledge her as monarch and not to try to control her. Darnley refuses, so Rizzio tells him he won’t sing his praises. Darnley laughs, knowing he already has Mary where he wants her anyway, and tells Rizzio to kiss his hand and kneel before him. He roughly forces Rizzio to his knees and Rizzio contemptuously tells him he’s reckless to scorn his only friend. Darnley’s feeling pretty invincible, though, and won’t listen.
Mary takes her seat in her presence chamber and speaks nervously to Rizzio for a second, before allowing him to admit James. James comes in and pissily asks what’s so important? Mary tells him she plans to marry Darnley, an idea he’s definitely not on board with. Mary firmly tells him she’ll marry whom she likes. James patronizingly says he’ll come back when she has more control over herself, but when he goes to leave, Bothwell stops him, along with a gaggle of guards, and tells James he made a bit mistake selling Bothwell’s lands off while he was imprisoned. Mary crows that she’ll be ruling alone from now on, and she immediately names Rizzio her chief minister. Oh, Mary. What a terrible, terrible idea. A foreigner and a papist? What are you thinking?
Mary orders James to leave her kingdom and hand over his seals of office to Rizzio. James solemnly warns Rizzio to make sure he’s in a constant state of grace, because death will be following him constantly from now on. Rizzio ignores the warning and instead promises there will be a fabulous rebirth of Catholicism in the land. That right there should have been an early clue that he wasn’t the best guy for this job. If that’s his top priority, you’ve got a problem. Just look at what happened in England when Mary Tudor tried to shove Catholicism down everyone’s throats! That wasn’t that long ago, folks!
Bothwell has more important things on his mind and pulls Mary aside to suggest she either imprison or execute James, for her own safety’s sake. Bothwell knows James will return someday, and the other lords will rally to him when he does. Mary refuses to start her reign with bloodshed and tells Bothwell to escort James to the border and hurry back for the wedding.
Wedding day! Mary and Darnley exchange vows in a tiny chapel before heading back to the palace for a party. A messenger is admitted to the private dining room where the nuptial couple are partying alone; he presents Mary with a gift from Lord Bothwell—a jewel from the hilt of his sword. The messenger, Andrew, also gives her a message from Bothwell: if she ever needs him and his sword, she’s to send Andrew to summon him. Mary thanks him and shows the jewel to Darnley, who pouts that if she keeps it, it means she doesn’t love him. She doesn’t catch on to his lousy mood and tells him lightly that she certainly will keep it, and no, she won’t be doing just what he says, because she’s going to be the one in charge here.
At that, he gets up and starts shouting at her to obey him. He then drunkenly stumbles into the main room, yelling that he’s the king, and the lords should serve him. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Rizzio steps in and offers to do the serving, as chief minister. That’s not good enough for Big D, who now wants the lords to serve both him and Rizzio. Darnley sweeps back into the dining room and sets a seat for Rizzio. He sniffs to Mary that she can now see how he’s obeyed, but she snaps back that all she sees is how he would behave if he’s ever given the crown matrimonial and allowed to rule as king in his own right. Darnley orders the disgruntled lords to start off serving Rizzio, giggling that now the lords will hate Rizzio so much they won’t have any energy left to hate Darnley. What a dick. Nice choice, Mary!
Mary, mortified, rises and tries to leave, but her new husband starts making crude comments and drinks a toast to his firstborn before leaving with her.
In the cold light of day, Mary receives Bothwell, awkwardly refusing to let him kiss her hand, for some reason. Once he sits down beside her, she thanks him for his gift, and then asks him why he’s leaving Edinburgh. He says he needs to go take care of his own affairs, and she whines that she needs him there, at her side. He reminds her she now has a husband to help and guide her. Mary asks him flat out if he opposes her marriage and, after some prodding, he tells her that her choices of husband and chief minister were both stupid. She shouts for him to leave, then, if he’s so mad, so he gets up to do just that. As he heads for the door, she calls him back to tell him she’ll pay him for his services rendered. He angrily tells her to keep her cash to buy clothes for her husband. She asks him what his problem is, and he admits to being a bit jealous. She sighs that she needs his help ruling Scotland and attempting to take over England. She begs him to stay at court and help her and holds out her hand. He takes it, kisses it, and promises to return once he’s settled his affairs and married for money.
Darnley, all dressed up in red velvet, his shirt stained with wine, happens upon Mary and Rizzio having a nice chat late at night. Darnley freaks out, pulls a knife, and accuses them of having an affair, even suggesting the baby Mary’s apparently pregnant with is Rizzio’s. Sounding panicky, she insists the child is Darnley’s. Rizzio tells Darnley he’s not fit to rule, and Mary finds a spine and tells Darnley he disgusts her. Kinda ballsy to say that to your drunk, unstable, knife-wielding husband. Darnley’s shocked to hear that and gets teary and upset. He leaves the room to go have a cry somewhere alone.
Hunting scene! It’s not a period drama without one of these, you know. Mary’s out with some of her courtiers, hawking and enjoying herself. One of the ladies draws her attention to Darnley, who’s galloping their way. She tells everyone to stay put and goes to meet him a little ways away. Darnley is panicking, telling her there’s a plot against her, because the guards turned him away from her apartments, even though he’s king. She angrily reminds him that he’s not king, he’s just some guy who happened to marry a queen, and if she dies, he’ll just be some guy again. Darnley realizes Mary was the one giving the orders to the guards and blames Rizzio. Mary tells him to get lost, he’s got new rooms now, and he won’t be touching her again.
Darnley arrives back at the castle in a snit, and is immediately captured by two burly guards and dragged into some dungeon-like room, where the council is gathered. Darnley gibbers and freaks out, thinking this is an assassination, but the lords tell him to get a grip. He’s not comforted by their reassurances until they start talking about doing away with Rizzio and having him rule instead of Mary. Darnley proves once again how totally useless and wimpy he is by squirming and telling them he’s not the king at all, he’s just a puppet. The lords offer to make him king for real, setting him above Mary to rule over all Scotland. It takes him a minute, but Darnley’s sold. The lords only ask that he convert to Protestantism and do away with all Catholics in the country. Oh, and pardon and recall James. They hand Darnley a bond to sign, as they all have. Woah, morons. Can you say treason? Darnley only asks that they kill Rizzio in Mary’s presence, but not harm her before her baby’s born. They agree and he signs.
In England, Elizabeth’s in council, looking over what I’m guessing is a copy of the bond Darnley and the other lords signed. According to Burghley, everyone at the Scottish court knows about this, except Mary and Rizzio. And there wasn’t a single person who thought to mention it to her? Come on, Mary must have some supporters in her own court. Elizabeth notes Darnley’s signature on the document. Burghley tells her James is ready to ride back to Scotland at a moment’s notice, but he needs cash. Elizabeth’s not too keen on supporting a treasonous act against a fellow queen, though. She wants Mary powerless but not dead.
Dudley tries to talk Elizabeth into marrying him again, telling her that if she bears a child herself her throne would be secure. For some reason, this makes Elizabeth decide to grant James a huge sum of money and a fast horse to ride home on. Come again? What is she doing? Did she seriously just go back on her own decision out of spite? After both she and Dudley leave, Burghley quietly thanks God for Dudley’s endless ambition.
Some poor guard in Scotland gets stabbed in the back by someone who then unlocks a nearby door to admit Darnley and the lords. They all head up the stairs to Mary’s apartments, where she’s having dinner with Rizzio and one of her ladies. Mary asks the lords what they’re doing there, and the lord in charge (Lord Riven) demands Rizzio meet with them outside. Mary tells him no way, and then all hell breaks loose as the lords draw daggers, throw the table aside, and drag Rizzio away, even as he screams for Mary to save him. She’s got about eight guys holding onto her, so there’s not much she can do. The lords start stabbing him, in the fakest way imaginable, as Mary gets hysterical. Hilariously, a servant runs in, takes one look at what’s happening, and just leaves. Strange time for a funny moment.
After all the fuss is over, Darnley’s calmly drinking some wine as Mary huddles with her lady-in-waiting on a bench and calls him a Judas. The lords yell at her to be quiet and Lord Riven tells her she’ll have her baby, but she’ll be imprisoned until she gives birth, and the baby will be raised a Protestant. Mary looks at her husband in horror, then gasps and grabs her belly in pain. A maid helps her to her bed, and the lady-in-waiting sends everyone away. Darnley, calm and sober for once, decides to remain. After the lords file out, he picks up a guitar left on a windowseat and cradles it in his lap, finally looking like he regrets what’s happened. The lady-in-waiting looks through a curtain at him, then reports back to Mary that Darnley is outside alone, but the door is guarded. Mary tells her they have to get out of there, and they’ll just have to take Darnley with them. She gives Bothwell’s jewel to the lady and sends her to find Andrew and have him run for Bothwell. The lady leaves through the secret passageway in Mary’s bedroom, and Mary goes out to the dining room, where she kneels at Darnley’s feet and desperately tells him she’s never betrayed him. She begs his forgiveness for trying to rule him and tells him the lords will kill him once they have the child. Darnley believes her and starts to get anxious, wondering what he should do. She urges him to trust her.
Later, Mary, Darnley, and her lady go through the passageway and meet Bothwell outside. Wow, he got there fast. Bothwell helps her onto his own horse and they ride away, making a huge racket as they race through the streets of Edinburgh. They get away, despite that, and gallop across the countryside to Bothwell’s stronghold (presumably). Bothwell helps her off the horse, welcomes her, and then introduces his wife, who emerges to welcome Mary herself. Mary’s shocked to hear Bothwell’s married, and she suddenly collapses in a faint, after screaming in pain. She’s carried inside, and later gives birth to a boy.
Word of the birth gets down to England, where Elizabeth reads the news and collapses wailing in the middle of a party. Burghley also informs Dudley that the Scottish lords were defeated by Bothwell.
Edinburgh. As men are dragged through the streets, Bothwell goes into a nearby prison to tell James Mary’s on her way back. James seems calm enough.
Mary rides with her army, Darnley, and some bagpipers back to the city, where Bothwell greets her. She and Bothwell go to see James, who informs her she can’t very well execute him without executing her husband as well. Mary’s all right with that, but James says the executions would split the kingdom, and people would say the baby was Rizzio’s. I don’t see why it would matter whose kid it is, since it’s undoubtedly hers and she’s the queen. Nevertheless, he gets Mary’s attention, and Bothwell offers to just kill James on the spot and claim he died of his wounds in battle. Mary tells him not to kill James and goes back outside, where she presents her baby son to the crowd as their future king. They cheer, but then boo when she pardons James. After some debate, James, Bothwell, and Darnley all shake hands, and the crowd cheers again. What a fickle bunch.
Mary’s in the palace, playing with baby James when Darnley bursts in and starts bitching about how everyone hates him. He threatens to have their marriage annulled, which would make their son illegitimate, unless Mary sleeps with him. Bothwell tries to kick his ass, but he’s forced by both Mary and Darnley to withdraw. Mary starts to cry, but there isn’t much she can do. Darnley asks her to bring him some wine, and she does so, pouring some potion into it before handing it over. Clever girl to keep that on hand. Darnley drinks it down in one, starts unlacing her nightgown, and tells her she’ll have him by her side again as king, no matter how she feels about him. Before he can get far, he collapses and passes out. Bothwell returns and calmly asks if the guy’s dead. Mary says he’s just drugged and Bothwell informs her that Darnley has VD. Mary starts to cry, and Bothwell advises her to recall the exiled lords to take care of Darnley. He pulls Mary into a hug that quickly turns into a passionate embrace. She finally manages to break the clinch and starts to fight him off, but he’s insistent, grossly, and even more grossly, she starts to get into it, and they fall back onto the bed together.
Some time the next day, Darnley comes to and finds a note pinned to Mary’s bed informing him she’s left with Bothwell and will be recalling the lords to take their revenge on Darnley for betraying them.
Bothwell’s meeting with the lords and trying to decide what to do with Darnley. They’re worried about provoking some sort of incident by murdering him. James tells them Darnley plans to murder Mary in a house he keeps in Edinburgh, at Kirk O’Field. Apparently, Darnley’s filled the place with gunpowder and plans to visit with Mary and then somehow get her alone in the house so he can blow her to kingdom come. One of the other lords scoffs at the stupidity of that plan. James predicts Darnley will bungle the plan and blow himself up. Bothwell tells them to leave everything to him.
Darnley is abed at Kirk O’Field, a medicinal mask over his face, while Mary writes a letter nearby that suggests she knows exactly what’s going to happen. When did she reconcile with him? I feel like this movie glosses over so much, and it annoys me.
Turns out she’s writing this letter to Bothwell, and there’s talk of a divorce and future marriage between them. Bothwell reads the letter, then sends Andrew to Edinburgh, because there’s work for him to do.
Kirk OF. Mary’s playing the guitar and singing a French song to Darnley as three men hurry into the house below, carrying small barrels. Mary’s lady-in-waiting enters and tells her it’s time to go, so she bids Darnley farewell and departs for a wedding she’s been invited to.
In the cellars, Andrew lays a line of gunpowder as Bothwell lurks about, locking doors so nobody can get out. From his bed, Darnley hears something, so he goes to the window and sees some men scurrying about in a rather suspicious manner. He runs to the door, but it’s locked. He hammers on it for a while, then returns to the window, where he sees a gunpowder fuse has been lit. He climbs out the window and manages to get down from the second floor of the house, just before it explodes.
The wedding guests hear the explosion and squeal. Mary turns to look at Bothwell, who’s calmly drinking some wine nearby.
Darnley wakes not far from the ruined house, but he’s soon surrounded by the lords, who take no pity on him. They drop his body in the garden and leave.
Mary and Bothwell are alone in her room, and she’s shouting at him for killing Darnley the way he did. Seems he told her Darnley would have an honorable death in a duel. Oh, come on, Mary. Did you really believe that? How was Darnley going to fight a duel? Bothwell tells her death is death no matter how it comes, so just chill out, already.
In England, Elizabeth is melodramatically draped in black, with a veil over her face as she greets the ambassadors from France, Spain, and Scotland. She lifts her veil and tells them she’s mourning Darnley, who was once an English subject. She’s shocked at the murder and the way he was buried in a hurry and his things given to Bothwell, whom Mary quickly married. Apparently the Scottish people have now risen in rebellion, and Elizabeth urges the other princes of Europe not to interfere in Scotland’s affairs.
Mary and Bothwell are abed, but not resting comfortably. She wakes them both, screaming during a nightmare, and Bothwell automatically draws a knife. Once they realize there’s no danger, he comforts her sweetly.
They’re back at his stronghold, apparently. Soon enough, the danger is real, as James and the other lords gallop towards the castle. They call for Bothwell to come out, and of course he does, shouting down to them from one of the ramparts. James asks him to send down Mary, since they have no quarrel with her (yeah, right), and then challenges Bothwell to single combat. Bothwell gets hotheaded and starts to head down, but Mary holds him back, yelling to James that their backup will be there within the hour and she’ll have him hanged from the castle walls. Unfortunately, James intercepted Bothwell’s messengers, so no backup is on its way at all. James once again calls for Bothwell to come down and fight, and Bothwell goes back inside, shouting for Andrew to bring his armor.
As he suits up, Mary begs him not to go out, because she knows the lords will just kill him. Bothwell knows, but he needs to buy her time to escape through a secret passage. These Scottish castles and their secret passageways. She kisses his hand and then runs out of the room, bolting it from the other side, trapping him in. From the other side of the door, she pleads with him to escape and rouse their soldiers himself. Mary and her lady-in-waiting go back out and she tells James that Bothwell will be down soon. Bothwell, meanwhile, escapes.
The lords take Mary hostage and present her with a deed of abdication. She refuses to sign it, so they produce a small silver casket containing her letters to Bothwell, which implicate her in Darnley’s death. James tells her he’ll have her tried for murder if she doesn’t abdicate, and furthermore, he captured Bothwell, who will be hanged the following day. Mary completely freaks out, screaming and fighting them, until finally one of the lords knocks her right out.
After she comes to, James asks her to sign the deed again, but once again, she refuses. So, they send Bothwell in. She’s overjoyed to see him. Bothwell tells her the lords will pardon him and spare her if he persuades her to abdicate. Mary still doesn’t want to, because she doesn’t trust the lords at all. Bothwell tells her the lords would, indeed, still betray her, but James is, after all, her brother and wants to see her safe to the English border. Mary hugs him tightly, not at all excited about the choice between death and separation from Bothwell forever. Bothwell tells her they’ll be together someday, and that as long as they’re alive, there’s hope.
James appears in the doorway and asks them what they choose.
Exile, apparently. James accompanies Mary to the border and promises to bring up her son a good Protestant. Mary steels herself, talks herself up, and then gallops towards the border, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting.
Down south, Elizabeth and Dudley are out for a ride and talking about Mary’s arrival in England. Catholics have been flocking to pay her homage, and she’s even be holding a court. In the course of their conversation, we learn that Elizabeth’s out to meet with Mary in secret, something that, historically, never happened. Soon, Mary and two guards appear, and the two queens ride towards each other, dismount, and greet each other warmly. Mary gets right to it and asks for Elizabeth’s help in getting her throne back. Elizabeth asks for the truth about what happened to Darnley. Mary swears she had nothing to do with it, and Elizabeth says that once Mary is acquitted of the murder, she’ll have whatever she wants. Mary gets pissed and says she’ll go to France for help, but Elizabeth won’t allow it. She plans to make Mary her prisoner. Mary spits that Elizabeth’s in league with James and Elizabeth gets mean, calling Mary a spoiled brat who sucks at her job and is totally unfit for a throne. Mary can give as good as she gets, though, and calls Elizabeth a barren bastard who will die a solitary old woman and will see her country go to Mary’s son. Elizabeth has one parting blow, however. She informs Mary that she was the one who sent Darnley to Scotland, and anyone dumb enough to put a crown on his head isn’t scary, she’s pathetic. Mary goes to punch Elizabeth right in the face, but Dudley steps in. Mary urges him to guard Elizabeth well, because there are many who want her dead. As she rides away, Elizabeth realizes she’ll have to keep her prisoner for the rest of her life.
And keep her prisoner she does. Mary looks out at a wintry landscape from one of the places she was kept. She settles down by the fire as her lady-in-waiting joins her. Their dull afternoon is thankfully interrupted by the arrival of an English officer from the French court, who wants to see her. The officer hands over some letters, then removes his helmet, revealing himself to be that English priest who joined her in France, all those years ago. Mary joyfully greets him, and he tells her they have important things to discuss. One of the letters he carries is from a man plotting to get rid of Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. Mary takes it, but first asks for news of her son. He’s buddies with Elizabeth, it turns out. Mary wryly says he’s his father’s son, after all. She also asks after Bothwell and learns Bothwell died insane in a Danish prison. Ouch. He didn’t try to sugarcoat that at all. The priest offers to hear Mary’s confession, and she accepts.
Elizabeth, now much older herself, and gaudily painted up, seems to be taking tonics for some complaint or another. Burghley is still by her side, gently urging her to execute Mary. Elizabeth’s not on board with the idea, because her reign isn’t well known for being a bloody one. Burghley asks for a moment alone, and once the servants go, he reminds Elizabeth that her Catholic subjects aren’t happy about Mary being kept prisoner in their country, especially since the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth for doing so. He tells her that killing Mary would take care of a lot of problems, but she still won’t to it, unless there’s written proof that Mary is conspiring against her. You can bet Burghley will find that proof, even if he has to make it himself. Before he goes, Elizabeth tells him forgeries won’t do, because any guilty verdict would have to stand up in any court in Europe.
Burghley breaks out the rack but the guy on it still isn’t talking. He and Walsingham put their heads together, and Walsingham thinks they have enough evidence, since they have all the other plotters. They’re talking about the Babington Plot here, the one that did actually get Mary executed. Walsingham brings out the piece de resistance, a letter written in Mary’s own hand, endorsing the plot.
Soldiers rip apart Mary’s rooms and find letters hidden under the floorboards, written to the pope, King Philip of Spain, and Babington. Burghley looks over them and tells Mary it’s taken him years to trap her, but now there’ll be justice.
The letters are taken to Elizabeth, who’s still afraid of the fallout she’d face if she executed Mary. Burghley and Walsingham say Mary has to be locked up where nobody can reach her until her trial begins. They plan to send her to Fotheringay Castle. Elizabeth flinches when she hears that. Apparently, the place isn’t exactly the Four Seasons. She angrily sweeps everything off her desk and tells everyone that, if Mary begs forgiveness, she’ll be spared.
Mary arrives at Fotheringay and asks her jailor if she’ll be murdered there. He doesn’t answer, just shows her to her rooms, where Elizabeth is waiting for her. “As you see, despite your attempts, I’m not dead,” says Elizabeth before telling Mary that everyone wants Elizabeth to put her on trial. Mary rather meanly asks if Elizabeth, like her father to Anne Boleyn, will send for a swordsman instead of subjecting her to a dull axe. Well, since you rubbed salt in that particular wound, Mary, I’m thinking you’re going to get the dullest axe on the block. Elizabeth tells her that she’s lived in constant fear of assassination for years, so don’t joke with her about death. Mary wearily asks Elizabeth what she wants, and Elizabeth says she wants to spare Mary, but Mary has to beg for forgiveness. Mary’s willing to do so, but she’s not ok with actually committing it to paper. Not good enough for Liz. So, Mary calls up her spirit and says she’ll be happy to stand trial and be made a Catholic martyr.
Elizabeth pulls out the letters between Mary and Bothwell and points out that Mary won’t look like such a good little Catholic when they’re read out in court. Mary looks horrified at the thought, but she still won’t yield, calling Elizabeth the devil sent to tempt her. She’s made her peace with God and with her destiny and she’s just fine with continuing on the path she’s sure God has paved for her. Enraged, Elizabeth calls for Dudley so they can leave. When he comes in, Mary tells him she forgives and prays for his mistress. In response, Dudley kneels and kisses her hands. Elizabeth sighs that if Mary’s head had matched her heart, Elizabeth would be the one facing the block. She leaves, followed by Dudley and Burghley, who collects the Casket Letters as he goes.
Three men make their way to Mary’s room as she prepares herself, putting on her makeup and being helped into a blonde wig. Her lady-in-waiting tells her it’s time, and then begins to cry. Mary tells her not to worry, because she’s ready for this. Mary tenderly bids her lady farewell, then collects a rosary and prayer book and goes out to meet her fate, praying the whole way. She falters momentarily when she reaches the main room, which is crowded with solemn-looking men. Her lady helps her onto the scaffold and takes the rosary and prayer book. The executioner kneels and asks her forgiveness, which she willingly gives, before removing her cloak and revealing a bright red dress underneath (red is the color of Catholic martyrs). Mary is blindfolded, lays her head on the block, and says “Lord, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” The executioner swings his axe and we cut immediately to Elizabeth’s eyes, red and tear filled. The camera pulls back and reveals her sitting on her throne, looking down at Mary’s prayer book, which she holds in her hand. The epilogue kicks up, informing us that Elizabeth did, in fact, die childless, and her throne passed to James, the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots.
So, there we have it, the story of Mary and Elizabeth, because that’s what this movie really was. I like this movie, but it definitely feels like a Cliffs Notes version of the history. Most movies are like that, but this didn’t really have to be, which makes it frustrating. The film focused so much on what was going on in Elizabeth’s court that the things going on in Scotland got short shrift, which is kind of ridiculous in a movie called Mary, Queen of Scots. Because we spent so much time in England, we got no sense of why Mary fell for Darnley, and the lords’ rebellion was mostly played out in dialogue between Elizabeth and her advisors. It’s not that Elizabeth wasn’t important, it’s just that if they were going to spend so much time on her and her alleged machinations, shouldn’t the film be called Mary and Elizabeth or something like that? Eh, oh well, I still like the movie, and the performances were really good and definitely worth watching, so despite its issues, this film does get the Armchair Anglophile seal of approval.