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« Red Carpet Lineup: Glam Leftovers! | Main | Red Carpet Lineup: Oscar Beauties, 86th Edition »
Wednesday
Mar052014

A Year With Kate: Mary Of Scotland (1936)

Episode 10 of 52 wherein Anne Marie screens all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which Kate dons some regal duds.

Stick with me, folks. The next three weeks are going to be rough, but if we can get through it together, the last week in March will be Stage Door, and from there on it’s nothing but Kate classics. In the meantime, however, we’ll have to slog through three films which, if I’m totally honest, rightly earned Kate her “box office poison” moniker. But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves.

First we have to get through Mary of Scotland, a misbegotten, misdirected, miscast movie. “Misbegotten” because it dumbs down the political intrigue of Queen Mary of Scotland’s reign into a bad romance novel plot. “Misdirected” because John Ford clearly would rather have been out in Monument Valley with John Wayne and a wide angle lens. "Miscast" because how in the name of all that is holy did we miss the chance to cast Katharine Hepburn as Queen Elizabeth I??

Elizabeth is a great role for actresses, especially redheads with good cheekbones. You know where I’m going with this. Since everybody loves pitting Cate vs Kate Elizabeth I vs Mary Stewart, I decided to rank four stand-out Lizzies and Marys (some good, some bad, all unique).

VS


Elizabeths

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth - Should have won the Oscar but I think she's satisfied now.
Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth And Essex
- Sadly not in Seasons of Bette, but a must-see for great, eyebrow-less acting
Glenda Jackson in Mary, Queen of Scots
- Chews every piece of scenery in sight
Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love
- Shouldn't have won for this role but the woman deserves a damn Oscar.

Marys

Samantha Morton in Elizabeth: The Golden Age - My favorite. Almost sans eyebrows. These facts are unrelated.
Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots
- Fights tusk to tusk with Glenda Jackson
Katharine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland
- This is the farthest down a list she will ever be for me.
Adelaide Kaine in Reign
- Awful PG-13 lovechild of Twilight and The Tudors.

Just once I’d love to see a of Mary and Elizabeth that doesn’t have the inevitable “One Was A Woman, The Other Was A Monarch” spiel. It feels way too much like the BS “Can Women Have It All?” question we keep basing self-help books and Sarah Jessica Parker movies on. 

Anyway, Kate’s version of Mary Stewart is a woman who (I hate this quote) “loved as a woman loves, lost as a woman loses.” This means that Mary spends most of the movie pining over the be-kilted Bothwell (Frederic March). Kate does many things well, but “pining” isn’t one of them, so she gets upstaged by the woman who does play Elizabeth, Florence Eldridge. Eldridge lurks in the background like a bedazzled British boogeyman, giving great monologues about power and generally screwing Mary over (or taking credit for it). Kate by contrast spouts high-pitched cliches about love, including the eye-roller, “I’d burn my throne if it meant another night with you.”

Even if Elizabeth is the better role, in the context of Kate’s flagging career I can understand why she played Mary. After Sylvia Scarlett’s gender-fuckery flopped, some serious backpedalling was needed. As written, Mary of Scotland allowed Kate to defend to the death her decision to be the “little woman” and uphold all gender conventions that ‘30s audiences held dear. Considering Kate’s rebelliousness (and Mary Stewart’s), it’s no surprise she couldn’t play it convincingly. Kate’s best scene is the trial when Mary finally grows a backbone, But by that time the movie is over and the judgement has been reached: Mary of Scotland is condemned to die.

Who's your favorite Elizabeth or Mary? Whose head goes on the chopping block?

Previous Weeks: A Bill of DivorcementChristopher Strong, Morning Glory, Little Women, Spitfire, The Little Minister, Break of Hearts, Alice Adams, Sylvia Scarlett

Next Week: A Woman Rebels - In which Katharine Hepburn becomes a feminist icon (as if she wasn't already)

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Reader Comments (17)

Best hand Elizabeth HANDS DOWN was Miranda Richardson as Queenie in the '80s BBC sitcom Blackadder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfTdnWLMLDA

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Vanessa Redgrave. Always Vanessa Redgrave.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I just rewatched this at the beginning of the Year with Kate postings because it had been many years since I had seen it and I had not been impressed but I thought maybe with the passage of time I might be able to appreciate it with fresh eyes. The answer was no. What a stately, glacial bore this film is. I think what made it worse was having read a bio of the actual Mary, Queen of Scots and discovering she was more or less an implusive nitwit who was her own worst enemy. Kate's moony eyed romantic heroine struck me as wrong on pretty much every level. That and the fact that the great and under-appreciated Florence Eldridge blows her off the screen.

Ginger Rogers had desperately wanted to play Elizabeth to Kate's Mary and even tested for it upon her insistence, completely deglamorizing herself. When the head of the studio at the time saw the test he exploded and shot her down saying something along the lines of 'If we can't recognize her what's the use of having her in the picture?"

All the ladies who have played Elizabeth have done well by the role, even Judi with the sketch of a character handed to her, but the best will always be Glenda Jackson. Not just in Mary, Queen of Scots but the BBC mini from the 70's. She tore the place up in it.

The best Mary is trickier. Samantha Morton was very good but I'd have to say Vanessa Redgrave because come on it's Vanessa Redgrave. Even though her film still tried to present Mary as a romantic victim she stretched and added as much as she could to that foolish woman. Kate's is the worst that I've seen not having viewed the Tiger Beat version of Adelaide Kaine.

I'm actually looking forward to A Woman Rebels. It's not one of her iconic movies but of the rocky lot of her early films it's one I found more enjoyable than most.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I live for these punchy (and alliterative!) summations of characters. "Bedazzled British Boogeyman" I mean really.

I really need to see more of these before passing judgment but I am ALWAYS here for Samantha Morton. She gets my vote!

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

What about Vanessa Redgrave playing Queen Elizabeth in that odd 2012 film Anonymous - I LOVED her in that, even if the film was rubbish. Perhaps because she is just a goddess of acting. that's all.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

Totally forgot that that was Samantha Morton in E: The Golden Age. A rewatch is in order, I think!

Wish I could vote, but I've seen too few of these. And Netflix should be embarassed by their lack of Kate movies available for instant view.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Although I really liked Blancett as Elizabeth, its Glenda Jackson all the way. She got it that the Tudors were more than a little crass (in both productions she played the role in) compared to the French groomed Mary. And Redgrave managed to convey just how unsuited to be a ruler this beautiful, mannered but rather vapid woman was. She was raised to be consort to a powerful man, not to be able to wield that power herself and it undid her. I always felt some of the animosity between the two women was because Elizabeth felt a little inferior.

I did really like Morton and Dench in their roles as well.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Not a film to defend, but it did result in some great Kate posters! And yes Glenda Jackson all the way, especially for the BBC mini-series! It was an unfortunate day when Glenda decided she wanted to save the world and left acting for politics

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe (uk)

What about Flora Robson? She managed to steal Fire over England from the glorious coupling of Olivier and Leigh in the height of their gorgeousness.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUA

If not Bette Davis (twice), then Helen Mirren as Elizabeth I.

And Glenda's Mary, definitely. But I have high hopes for Saoirse Ronan.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Samantha Morton in Elizabeth: The Golden Age made me wish the whole film had somehow been all about her with Cate in the supporting role. She's exactly what I always imagined Mary to be and sound like.

But yeah, Redgrave + Jackson.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

did morton have anyone voting or campaigning for her.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Oh man, I remember this movie as being just super dull. The costumes and art direction weren't even anything to get excited about.

I haven't seen all of these performances but remember liking Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave. Cate was terrific as a young Elizabeth, and Glenda as the older Elizabeth (don't tell me they were the same age at filming because I couldn't take it).

I dread to think what's ahead before Stage Door. Isn't Quality Street coming up? ZZZZzzzz....

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

I've always thought that Glenda Jackson was the best Elizabeth I; especially in Elizabeth R. I think Vanessa Redgrave has been the best MQOS on screen, but I don't think any of the movies or mini-series have done justice to the real MQOS.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRick Schoen

I have to say, I'm surprised at how many are voting Glenda Jackson over Cate Blanchett. I love them almost equally (my massive prejudice towards loving every Cate does notwithstanding), so I'm glad to see the now mostly forgotten performance by Jackson get some much-deserved praise.

The next movie is A Woman Rebels, so if any of you have a suggestion about how to make THAT interesting, please let me know.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Well, A Woman Rebels could be the story of Katharine Hepburn in real life I guess. What WAS going on in her real life? Was this the Howard Hughes years? Or the Leland Hayward years? Who knows.

I vaguely recall A Woman Rebels as being slightly less awful than her other movies of the time, though not nearly as good as her "contemporary" films coming up. in fact, why DID they insist in putting Katharine in all of these godawful period movies? It's not too surprising to me that the only movies from this early period that endure to today are contemporary mostly comic ones.

I'd also like to know why they cast her with all these milquetoast leading men.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Dave, that is a brilliant point. I don't know why she got stuck in so many period pieces. I'm going to do some digging. To the library!

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

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