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