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Good to look at but not good history
on September 5, 2008
I realize it can be tiresome for reviewers to expect popular history movies to be on the spot when it comes to historical accuracy, but frankly these movies are sometimes all the general public has to make historical judgements. Therefore, I'm going to be tiresome.
The movie "Mary, Queen of Scots" was very nice to look at, but it fell into the movie industry's natural temptations to sensationalize at the expense of historical accuracy(why that was necessary is beyond me, since her life was sensational enough as it was).
I am not referring to the typical charge that Mary never met Elizabeth, which is a mistake made not only in "Mary, Queen of Scots," but in other movie treatments of Mary (such as the recent British television series on Elizabeth).
No, I'm referring to the depiction of Mary's relationship with Lord Bothwell. In the movie she falls in love with the bawdy Scottish Lord who killed her husband, Darnley. In reality, as you would see from reading the definitive biography of Mary by Antonia Fraser, Mary was actually a victim of not only Bothwell's treachery, but that of the other Scottish lorders who plotted with Bothwell to kill Darnley. Bothwell actually kidnapped and raped Mary. He then told her all of this was done at the request of her powerful lords. She married Bothwell only to accomodate the lords and to bring peace. It backfired with the very lords who consipired with Bothwell turned against him, and eventually against Mary. That is how she lost her crown. Some of the very people who should have been protecting her (including her half brother) then concocted conspiracy theories to defame her good name--all to make way for them to rule in her absence.
Complicated, yes. But not only true, but more interesting than the love sick Queen falling for a Scottish hunk--as it is depicted in the film. Mary completely lost her head in love only once, and it was NOT for Bothwell, but for the hapless Darnley whom he murdered.
The movie also suffers from the admittedly difficult task of telling the long life story of a person without losing dramatic effect. The movie rushes through Mary's life in a bewildering blur of changing scenes and costumes. But as it does, it unfortunately shortchanges the the most dramatic and important episodes of Mary's life--namely, the allegations of consipiracies that led to her execution and the trial.
Again, understandable for a movie, but if you want the truth about Mary, read Fraser's book.