Tasteful historical pageant featuring two determined British queens. 4 Stars

Charles Jarrott’s Mary, Queen of Scots offers a fascinating view of the 16th century power struggles between two determined queens, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, in a tastefully produced historical epic that doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
Released: 28 Mar 1972
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 128 min
Director: Charles Jarrott
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton
Writer(s): John Hale (original screenplay)
Plot: During the sixteenth century, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots engages in over two decades of religious and political conflict with her cousin, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England, amidst political intrigue in her native land.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: 53

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/16/2020
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 4/5

Historical accuracy questions aside, Charles Jarrott’s Mary, Queen of Scots is an enjoyable and mostly accurate telling of the adult life of Mary Stuart who early on reigned in France and then came to rule as Queen of Scotland before events got the better of her driving her to England and into the hands of her rival cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Exceptionally well cast with a wealth of English character actors supporting two of their most talented female stars in the leading roles, Mary, Queen of Scots is the kind of cinematic history lesson that allows its facts to parade in front of us in something of a grand melodramatic pageant going down very easily as we see crosses and double-crosses, manipulations and schemes unfold in an oftentimes breathtaking production.

After the death of her young husband the King of France, teenaged Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave) is tossed out of France by Catherine De Medici (Katherine Kath) and returns to Scotland where first her mother and then her illegitimate brother James (Patrick McGoohan) had been serving as regents in her absence. Determined to rule as a Catholic despite the growing Protestant power base in the country, Mary makes one impulsive and foolhardy decision after another: marrying the handsome but utterly treacherous and traitorous Henry Lord Darnley (Timothy Dalton), arranging for his murder freeing her to marry Lord Bothwell (Nigel Davenport) after giving birth to Darnley’s son who is named king with James once again serving as regent, and then fleeing to England where Queen Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) immediately imprisons her to guard against Catholic rebellion and Mary’s own claims to the English throne.

John Hale’s script plays a merry game of counterpoint showing the ups and downs in the lives and reigns of the two parallel queens, Mary and Elizabeth. Much of the focus on Elizabeth involves her canny manipulations of Mary to achieve results that would benefit England and Elizabeth while Mary’s scenes feature much more melodramatic intrigue with the shifting loyalties of her courtiers, her ill-advised love affairs proving how her downfall was the result of her being ruled by her heart rather than by her head (with Elizabeth the exact opposite), and the seesawing of power between Mary and the Catholics and James and his Protestant supporters. While Hale keeps things relatively transparent and understandable, a prior knowledge of the history of Tudor England might aid in smoothing out the rough edges and aid in understanding the motivations for the actions of many of the characters which are only hinted at in the screenplay. Mary’s nineteen-year imprisonment under Elizabeth’s hand is also quite sketchily glossed over here (for more intriguing detail about the final plot to bring Mary down, watch the “Horrible Conspiracies” episode of Elizabeth R for a fuller understanding of Mary’s downfall). Director Charles Jarrott manages to balance the intimate stories with the pageantry of the era though anyone expecting the grandeur of previous English historical epics may find this one a trifle underpowered, and the violence is handled reasonably discreetly even if Riccio’s murder is pretty harrowing. But when one-on-one encounters are needed: whether it be a homosexual liaison between Lord Darnley and Mary’s minster David Riccio (Ian Holm) or Mary’s seduction by Lord Bothwell and the two encounters in the film between Mary and Elizabeth (who cares if they’re historically inaccurate; no one in his right mind would pass up the opportunity for these two electrifying actresses to face off against one another), Jarrott doesn’t let the viewer down.

Glenda Jackson had just had the great good fortune to have starred as Queen Elizabeth I in one of the greatest of the BBC’s miniseries Elizabeth R, so it’s no surprise that her performance here is aces. She had a firm grasp on Elizabeth’s steely character and cunning mind and conveys it all nicely in the film even though Mary Stuart is obviously intended to be of more central focus in the movie. Vanessa Redgrave captures Mary’s wild impulsiveness, stubborn ego, and unwavering, often foolhardy pride in the face of defeat while never trying to convince us otherwise that Mary’s decisions were often heartfelt but incredibly foolish. Trevor Howard is a fine, firm William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Master Secretary, while Patrick McGoohan exudes quiet authority as the determined James Stuart, and Ian Holm is quite touching as the tragic David Riccio. Timothy Dalton makes a superbly weak and pitiful Lord Darnley while Nigel Davenport displays all of the opposite traits as the strong, able Lord Bothwell. Daniel Massey is on hand as Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Dudley and does well with the role.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from a stray few dust specks which fly by fleetingly, the picture is beautiful with lush color, warm textures, and excellent contrast. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix is very appealing even if fidelity seems just a trifle muted. Dialogue has been recorded well and is beautifully reproduced, mixed with surety with John Barry’s Oscar-nominated score and the various sound effects. There are no problems with age-related hiss, crackle, flutter, or pops.

Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary: film historian and critic Sergio Mims offers a rather scattered audio commentary. He has lots he wants to say, but his brain often races ahead of his mouth as he mispronounces words, gets dates mixed up, and shuffles through a cascade of notes as we hear him flipping pages as he’s talking. He also jumps back and forth between subjects in his somewhat disorganized presentation.

Isolated Score Track with Audio Commentary: ported over from the DVD release, forty-seven minutes of John Barry music cues are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with film historians Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame offering interesting and vital analysis of John Barry’s music for the film, his career as a whole, and some comments on the film itself during the interludes between music cues.

Theatrical Trailer (3:41. SD)

Kino Trailers: The Lion in Winter, Isadora

Overall: 4/5

Charles Jarrott’s Mary, Queen of Scots offers a fascinating view of the 16th century power struggles between two determined queens, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, in a tastefully produced historical epic that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Recommended!

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Matt Hough

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atcolomb

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A big fan of Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson but have never seen this movie. I hope my local library will get it.
 

Thomas T

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You don't mention if the blu ray replicates the intermission and entr'acte that were on the DVD. Does it?
 
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Ken Koc

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i just finished watching it. Unfortunately it does not have the intermission or entr’acte.
it was great to see it again. I remember first seeing it in 70mm at the Wilshire in LA.
 

Thomas T

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No, they are not on the disc.
Since Indicator in the U.K. is releasing the complete roadshow version of Sweet Charity, another Universal release from KL, hopefully they'll get around to doing the same thing with Mary Queen Of Scots. There was definitely an intermission when I saw it first run at the Regency theater in San Francisco in 1971.

Since the Nick Redman commentary is the same one they used on the DVD, it must be confusing since he references the intermission and entr'acte in his commentary (unless they've edited it out).
 
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Matt Hough

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Since Indicator in the U.K. is releasing the complete roadshow version of Sweet Charity, hopefully they'll get around to doing the same thing with Mary Queen Of Scots. There was definitely an intermission when I saw it first run at the Regency theater in San Francisco in 1971.
Yes, the commentator also mentions the moment which was the end of Act I, it fades, and then comes back up on Act II with no Intermission card in between.
 

Andrew Budgell

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Mary, Queen of Scots is a favourite of mine and one of my most anticipated discs of 2020. I'm so glad it's received such high marks in your excellent review, Matt! The lack of an intermission and entr'acte is not a dealbreaker for me whatsoever. I can't wait to receive my copy!
 

roxy1927

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Saw it when it opened in Radio City. Don't remember it being in 70mm. Definitely Panavision but maybe a blow-up? Looked impressive on the Radio City screen. And earlier than the end of March. Preceded What's Up Doc which was the Easter show. Now I've got to find an opening day ad to see if it really was in blow up 70mm.
 

noel aguirre

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Was the Intermission in all theaters when it first opened -was it a road show? I saw it in 1971 and don’t remember one in Baltimore. I do remember it being a great film with stellar performances and was released shortly after Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson had been shown on PBS. I have the DVD and am so happy with the review and will most definitely upgrade.
 

Thomas T

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Was the Intermission in all theaters when it first opened -was it a road show? I saw it in 1971 and don’t remember one in Baltimore. I do remember it being a great film with stellar performances and was released shortly after Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson had been shown on PBS. I have the DVD and am so happy with the review and will most definitely upgrade.
It wasn't a road show in the U.S. I think theatres were given the option of the intermission and entr'acte and I would imagine some of the "major" cities like New York, L.A., Chicago and Boston might have taken advantage of it. I saw it opening week in San Francisco at the Regency theatre and it had the intermission. I knew the manager of the theatre and I think he just used the intermission as an excuse to sell more popcorn. :) The DVD looks pretty good and I think I'll stick with that but I would have upgraded if the intermission and entr'acte were kept intact. It's the same reason I'm upgrading to the Indicator Sweet Charity.
 
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roxy1927

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Movies at the Music Hall never had intermissions until the mid 70s when they started showing revivals of things like Sound of
Music and GWTW.
 

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Saw it when it opened in Radio City. Don't remember it being in 70mm. Definitely Panavision but maybe a blow-up? Looked impressive on the Radio City screen. And earlier than the end of March. Preceded What's Up Doc which was the Easter show. Now I've got to find an opening day ad to see if it really was in blow up 70mm.
List of Panavision Blowups
Citation for premiere in 70mm on the 22nd December 1971 in California

And a poster with a small 70mm logo at the bottom

 
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roxy1927

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Yep then I guess you're right. I always found 70mm blowups at the Music Hall had a softer than usual visual quality to them. Mary was done extremely well.
Films actually shot in 70mm looked spectacular there
 

noel aguirre

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It wasn't a road show in the U.S. I think theatres were given the option of the intermission and entr'acte and I would imagine some of the "major" cities like New York, L.A., Chicago and Boston might have taken advantage of it. I saw it opening week in San Francisco at the Regency theatre and it had the intermission. I knew the manager of the theatre and I think he just used the intermission as an excuse to sell more popcorn. :) The DVD looks pretty good and I think I'll stick with that but I would have upgraded if the intermission and entr'acte were kept intact. It's the same reason I'm upgrading to the Indicator Sweet Charity.
Thanks for the info Thomas. Do we know of any other films that weren't road show that had optional intermissions? I wonder what Jarrott's preferred cut would be? With or without like West Side Story- no intermission? I remember seeing this on release and didn't remember feeling uncomfortable then that a break was needed unlike a Scorsese film these days but rather engrossed in the story on screen. So I'm actually glad I purchased this version as I remember it- I also own the DVD but never got to the point on the DVD where it occurred. But I totally get why you would want what you'd originally viewed.
So the blu-ray arrived today and it seems to fluctuate in it's improvement to the DVD. Outdoor scenes I can tell are improved but indoor sometimes seems to be a victim of early 70's film stock where black levels and sharpness were never great.
Also I find it very interesting that Jarrott's next film would be the infamous musical Lost Horizon.
 

lionel59

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Thanks for the info Thomas. Do we know of any other films that weren't road show that had optional intermissions? I wonder what Jarrott's preferred cut would be? With or without like West Side Story- no intermission? I remember seeing this on release and didn't remember feeling uncomfortable then that a break was needed unlike a Scorsese film these days but rather engrossed in the story on screen. So I'm actually glad I purchased this version as I remember it- I also own the DVD but never got to the point on the DVD where it occurred. But I totally get why you would want what you'd originally viewed.
So the blu-ray arrived today and it seems to fluctuate in it's improvement to the DVD. Outdoor scenes I can tell are improved but indoor sometimes seems to be a victim of early 70's film stock where black levels and sharpness were never great.
Also I find it very interesting that Jarrott's next film would be the infamous musical Lost Horizon.
I believe when THE KING AND I was re-issued in 70mm in 1961 in the USA (then later in Australia), an Overture, entr'acte and exit music were added which were not there for the initial 1956 35mm screenings. They are on one of the early US dvd releases. The lp Overture was not utilised, but music only tracks from songs were used.
I saw this great musical in 70mm in 1972. Although shot on larger film stock on the old Grandeur cameras (the rerelease was in 'Grandeur 70'),the correct aspect ratio is 2.55:1, not 2.0:1, so I am guessing the image was cropped. At the age of 12, I was unaware of such things. I recall it looked terrific, particularly in comparison to the b+w, fullframe TV airings I had viewed prior to this. The intermission point was at the same point in the stage play, after the prayer in the temple for the upcoming banquet. It has never looked as good to my eyes again, including a new 35mm print which was shown around 1989 in a Melbourne cinema where I worked as an usher. I think it may have had some large format showings at the start of its 1956 openings in cities like New York, but I am not sure. It and CAROUSEL were initially planned to be screened in large format but reduced to 35mm for the most part. The old cameras were so noisy that 90% of the dialogue had to be looped. It is possible that before the deletion of some songs, KING may have been intended to have an intermission.
I saw MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS at the Bercy in Melbourne in 1972. Pretty sure it was 35mm. I don't think that theatre was equipped for 70mm. Great movie. Have bought the blu ray and I avoided the unnecessary remake.
 
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Thomas T

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Thanks for the info Thomas. Do we know of any other films that weren't road show that had optional intermissions? I wonder what Jarrott's preferred cut would be? With or without like West Side Story- no intermission?
Well, even though it was a Roadshow in its initial engagements, it looks like Man Of La Mancha (1972) might have had an optional intermission. I saw it in its first run engagement in San Francisco at the Golden Gate theatre and it had an overture and intermission. However, many others who also saw the first run Roadshow engagement said it did not have an intermission. So I can only conclude that an intermission was optional or early dementia has set in :(

I saw Gandhi (1982) twice during its first run engagement. When I saw it in Century City, it played without an intermission. I saw it again a week later in Hollywood and it had an intermission which is replicated on the DVD/blu.

btw, my sister says when she saw Titanic during its first run engagement it had an intermission. But that was a choice by the theater management as I don't believe Cameron intended any intermission.
 

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btw, my sister says when she saw Titanic during its first run engagement it had an intermission. But that was a choice by the theater management as I don't believe Cameron intended any intermission.
Yeah, it must have been something a rogue theater manager decided to do because Cameron felt that if he had the audience's interest that he didn't want to risk losing it with an intermission.
 
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Thomas T

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Yeah, it must have been something a rogue theater manager decided to do because Cameron felt that if he had the audience's interest that he didn't want to risk losing it with an intermission.
Which makes no sense really, if the picture is good, you're not going to lose interest. I certainly didn't lose interest after Ben-Hur's intermission or Spartacus' intermission but was eager to see what happened next. I've said this before, if a movie exceeds 2 1/2 hours (credits not included) I personally think an intermission should be included. I sat through Titanic all the way through but I think it might have done permanent damage to my bladder (only half joking). After Blue Is The Warmest Color which pushed the 3 hour mark, I vowed to check running times before I went to a film and if it exceeded 2 1/2 hours, I'd wait to see it at home where I can push the pause button.