Mary, Queen Of Scots


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

"Imbach’s production eschews costume drama clichés for a spare and taut account."

Mary Queen Of Scots has had her life endlessly dissected both on stage and on screen. Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Samantha Morton and (on stage) Isabelle Huppert figure among those who have assumed the crown of the tragic Scottish queen while Irish actress Saoirse Ronan takes on her mantle for another new film due for release next year.

You can see why film-makers are convinced there’s something about Mary that demands exploration.

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The latest is a Swiss-French co-production, mainly in English, by Thomas Imbach, which has premiered in Locarno ahead of Toronto next month.

The stuff of high historical drama is all there. As a baby, of course, Mary was engaged to the heir to the French throne, whom she later married. When he died young, she returned to Scotland to be the centre of conspiracies both romantic and political.

There were failed marriages, disastrously bad decisions, murders, imprisonment and a serious tiff with her cousin Elizabeth, which lead to her head being on the block at the age of 44.

Imbach’s production eschews costume drama clichés for a spare and taut account and a view of Mary as a woman far ahead of her time who fought to live her own passions, and wanted to have it all without compromise. In Camille Rutherford he has found an actress who precisely embodies that vision.

The production (based on a novel by Stefan Zweig) comes into its own in the portrayal of Mary’s love for the Earl of Bothwell (Sean Biggerstaff), whom she marries, and the clinical way with which she dispatches her previous betrothed Lord Darnley (Aneurin Barnard). Both the nobles and the people of Scotland spurn her with a venom in an expression of horror and disgust at the callous deed.

The ambiguous relationship with Elizabeth I whom she considers her sister but whom she never meets and we never see except in puppet form, has a crucial part to play – the two women are part of the same jigsaw. Elizabeth went directly from prison to be queen of England while Mary went from queen of Scots, and briefly queen of France, also to prison for close on 20 years.

Imbach covers the ground in an economical and efficient way which evokes the period with authentic simplicity, leaving the way for the performances to hold centre stage.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2013
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A biopic of the ill-fated Scottish monarch.

Director: Thomas Imbach

Writer: Thomas Imbach, based on the book by Stefan Zweig.

Starring: Camille Rutherford, Sean Biggerstaff, Aneurin Barnard, Ian Hanmore

Year: 2013

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Switzerland

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Long live the Queen