My friend Ann and I are both history buffs, so a film such as Mary, Queen of Scots was right up our alley. Off we headed to Frontenac Plaza for a noon showing. Without plowing through the Wikipedia entry, I tried to come up with what little I could remember about Mary’s reign from my British History class. Hmm. . . let’s see, Mary was the mother of James I (you know, the guy who commissioned the KJV Bible).
Mary was also a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, who ended their competition for the British throne by lobbing off Mary’s head. (I hope that doesn’t spoil the story for you, but the movie starts with that scene.) What follows is a 2 hour, 4 minute flashback of political intrigue, religious warfare and bedroom shenanigans. (Gone with the Wind was only one and half hours longer, for heaven’s sake!)
The story begins with Mary returning to claim the crown of Scotland—and hopefully, England, if she can pull the throne out from under cousin Elizabeth. Conflict between the pair of regal prima donnas is further heightened by the maneuvers of the duplicitous, pantalooned men in their orbit.
But First We Eat
Before taking in such a heady dose of history, Ann and I fortified ourselves with a fine lunch at nearby Bricktop’s. I’d not been to the spiffy Frontenac restaurant for a while, because it seems the park lot is always crowded at the noon hour. But we got there just as they opened, which was perfect timing for a quick lunch.
On to the Show
I should note that after lunch, I’ve been known to snooze off in front of my computer screen. But this day I was jarred awake and my attention riveted to the movie screen as the 16th century drama unfolded.
In the Hollywood tale, both women get a historical make over. Mary is cast less as a villain than she’s traditionally portrayed, while Elizabeth becomes a medieval Cruella de Vil. Mary and Elizabeth never met, except in this film version. And nothing was made of the historic claim that Mary was in on the killing of her second husband. There were enough missing or altered pieces to send me back to Wikipedia after the show.
Despite its historical shortcomings, the film is fascinating. The setting, landscape, lighting, and costuming, convincingly whisk you back in time. I’d like to tell you there’s a food scene in this protracted account of British history, but I don’t recall a single one. I suppose that with so much gore, sex, and treachery to portray, there was no time for such ordinary fare.
If you think politics and power pervade everything in public life today, there’s a degree of relief in knowing that once upon a time it was much worse.