Monday, September 02, 2013

Another Outtake From “Mary, Queen Of Scots”

In 1969, Universal Pictures had enjoyed an unexpected commercial success with “Anne Of The Thousand Days”, a presentation of the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

One of the consequences of that unexpected success was that Universal Pictures decided to green-light a second royal bio-epic, “Mary, Queen Of Scots”, with the same director, Charles Jarrott.

“Anne Of The Thousand Days” had been Jarrott’s first film. “Mary, Queen Of Scots” was to be his second. Jarrott’s third film, a disastrous musical remake of “Lost Horizon”, more or less ended his association with prestige projects, although he continued to work, on and off, on minor projects, until retiring from the film industry in 2001.

(Jarrott died in 2011. A friend of mine, an attorney in Los Angeles and a resident of Woodland Hills, was a neighbor of Jarrott at the time of Jarrott’s death.)

In many ways, “Mary, Queen Of Scots” is a beautiful film.

It is beautifully lighted and beautifully photographed, courtesy of Christopher Challis, who offers the finest work of his career. Many of the scenes, such as those shot at Château de Chenonceau, are ravishing.

The film’s costuming is rich and detailed. Interior design is of the highest quality. Exterior locations were chosen with care.

In short, the “look” of the film is marvelous. “Mary, Queen Of Scots” is nowise a television film masquerading as a theatrical release, the signal failing of most films about historic figures.

The screenplay is neither poetic nor memorable, yet it is serviceable and never offensive. John Barry’s pseudo-Tudor music score is attractive. Most small roles are expertly cast and expertly played.

Why, then, is the film not more highly regarded?

The problems, I believe, reside in the film’s editing and direction.

The film never acquires a rhythm, and is unable to sustain tension or build to a climax—shortcomings that must be blamed on the editing team.

Fatally, the film lacks style and individuality, shortcomings that must be blamed on the director, who fundamentally had a limited grasp of the film medium.

And yet the film is very much a pleasure to experience (and must be seen in a letter-boxed version). I suspect “Mary, Queen Of Scots” draws respectable audiences when shown on cable movie channels—it seems to pop up with some frequency—and over time the film probably has acquired a devoted audience.

The outtake is from the scene in which Mary Stuart, having just returned from France following the death of the French sovereign (Stuart’s husband), greets her new Scottish subjects.

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