Mary, Queen of Scots [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (30th July 2022).
The Film

"Mary, Queen of Scots" (1971)

Mary Stuart (played by Vanessa Redgrave) is widowed at 18 years of age due to the unfortunate death of her husband King Francis II of France, and is forced to return to her homeland of Scotland, where she would be crowned the Queen. But her return brings royal, religious, and political trouble to the British isles. Queen Elizabeth of England (played by Glenda Jackson) is threatened by her cousin's rule being a setback to her rule of the lands. John Knox (played by Robert James) and the Protestant movement are threatened by the Catholic raised Mary and her counselor David Riccio (played by Ian Holm) who was appointed by the church to accompany her from France. Her strong ties to France which she had lived for most of her life and the idea of a female leader without plans for another marriage for an heir raises concern with certain figures, including her half brother James (played by Patrick McGoohan). This is the story of the beloved and tragic figure of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Containing the story of Mary Stuart's life in Scotland from eighteen years old until her execution at the age of 44 in a two hour presentation is quite a squeeze, but "Mary, Queen of Scots" does an excellent job balancing the important aspects and happenings while adding drama and tension throughout, and even a bit of humor along the way. Produced by veteran producer Hal B. Wallis in 1971, the production would take cues from theater productions rather than cinematic trends, standing out from the crowd of the emerging new wave of cinema of the 1970s. Looking and feeling closer to the stage adaptations directed by Lawrence Olivier, "Mary, Queen of Scots" would not be a production to showcase camera movements or action, but instead on the spectacle of performers adapting a tale from a few hundred years ago in a theatrical fashion. For the performers, the cast had an incredible roster, with seasoned veterans and some newcomers, led by two powerful female stars and a great supporting cast.

While Redgrave was in her thirties, she plays the role of Mary from eighteen onward, with subtle makeup changes to accomodate the changes in time, and plays the complex character brilliantly. Starting as a heartbroken and lost soul at the start and immediately building confidence with tolerance, the audience sees her grow into a leader while also falling into the pitfalls of male figures that try to lure her power and betrayal of others. Another great supporting choice was newcomer Timothy Dalton in the role of Lord Darnley, her second husband whose motive for marriage is more about power and status rather than a supporter of the crown. Interestingly Dalton and Redgrave were an actual couple from the time of filming which lasted about fifteen years onward. Another great performance comes from Nigel Davenport as Lord Bothwell, who is one of Mary's most trusted figures and is loyal to her while also being honest to her face. Glenda Jackson's performance of Queen Elizabeth is more on the side of villainy, as the story focuses on Mary's growth and cousin Elizabeth's long lasting jealousy is well played with strength and force here. In addition, Jackson played Queen Elizabeth on television that same year in "Elizabeth R." to high acclaim, so this feature film performance was a bit of an extension of that role in the mini-series. Playing the character with gusto and strength yet with vulernability due to her aging and childless woes, it's another wonderful alternate take on the historical figure.

Director Charles Jarrott worked for producer Wallis on Anne of a Thousand Days" in 1969, adapting the story of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth. "Mary, Queen of Scots" could be considered a sequel as it does follow the timeline and was co-written by John Hale who also scripted "Mary, Queen of Scots". Thematically and stylistically the films were particularly seamless though having differing casts, locations, and time periods. Some audiences will have issues with the pacing and dialogue of "Mary, Queen of Scots", being stilted in delivery and events occurring at an unnatural pace, with marriages, childbearing and character changes happening back to back. But for fans of stage performances, the storytelling is done very well, being captivating through the twists and turns with each character having arcs of secrets and lies. There are the issues of historical accuracy of the feature film, as there are some inconsistencies as well as undocumented events such as the two face to face encounters with Mary and Elizabeth. But like all adaptations, there are liberties taken for the sake of storytelling, from connecting multiple events together for convenience, adding speculative portions such as the aforementioned meeting as well as Lord Darnley's bisexuality. While there is quite a lot of historical accuracy to be had, one shouldn't take everything presented as absolute truth. This also goes for accents of characters, as there are quite a few who lack genuine Scottish accents, though it is forgiven that Mary didn't have one, as she lived in France since she was a toddler. But in effect, the film is a genuinely entertaining and fascinating costume drama that plays on tradition and not reinvention.

The score was composed by the legendary John Barry, who took a more classical approach in emotional connections of the characters, rather than having only period music or grand and extravagant themes being bombarded. He may be more well known for his "007" scores filled with energy and excitement, this is a more subtle and quiet score, with an excellent opening them sung by Redgrave in French. Redgrave was not a French speaker and had to learn it phonetically, though it still fits well and sounds excellent.

The story of Mary Stuart has been adapted to screen on numerous occasions, from silent shorts to epic cinematic events. From John Ford's "Mary of Scotland" in 1936 starring Katherine Hepburn in the lead to "Mary, Queen of Scots" in 2018 starring Saorise Ronan, there has never been a drought of the story and courage of Mary Stuart's life in popular culture, with each having their strengths and weaknesses. There is no definitive tale on the story and all the facts may never be uncovered, but the fascination continues hundreds of years later and into the twenty first century.

While shot across Europe with a British cast and directed by a British director, it was essentially an "American" film being produced by Hollywood with Wallis and Universal Pictures. It also received its premiere in America, in Los Angeles on December 22nd, 1971 to qualify for the Academy Awards, followed by a wider release from February of 1972. It premiered in the UK on March 27th, 1972. The original theatrical version ran at 127 minutes while the later screened "Roadshow version" screened with an added overture and intermission, which seems a bit much considering the runtime is only just over two hours in length. With five Oscar nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, it was praised for the performances and technical merits, but there were some negative reactions to the old fashioned and stilted theater style in general. Unfortunately it won none of the awards, although Redgrave and Jackson won an award for their performances at the David di Donatello Awards and Jackson received an acting prize from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. It didn't create any renaissance for period dramas or change the course for filmmaking in the 1970s, "Mary, Queen of Scots" is a prime example of theatrical filmmaking as one of the finest of the period, filled with excellent performances from an all star cast.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer comes from original distributor and rightsholder Universal Pictures. It's not mentioned what elements were used for the transfer, but it is rather a fair one rather than anything extraordinary. Colors don't seem to pop, having a slightly pale tone without deep or rich hues. On the better side, the colors are well balanced throughout, with only minor instances of flickering, which are more noticeable in outdoor locations. There are some moments of shakiness to the image and weaving, and some damage marks being visible from speckles to light scratches. There are some noticeable markings on outdoor sequences where there are brownish streaks on the left side, though this seems more like an issue with the original photography rather than film damage. Film grain is kept intact for a naturally filmlike appearance, though there are some points that are a bit grainier than others. For the most part the transfer is acceptable, but it doesn't have a particular wow factor.

The runtime is 127:59, which is the original theatrical version without the Roadshow version overture and intermission.


English LPCM 2.0 mono
English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

The original mono track is presented uncompressed. The audio is well balanced throughout, with the dialogue, music and effects being well balanced, without issues of distortion or damage such as pops or hiss. Being a dialogue heavy film with a lot of location shot sound elements, there are echoes heard which are natural sounding. Voices are clear, the music cues by John Barry sound excellent, and is a pleasing experience. Though there were surround mixes created for the 70mm blowup and some 35mm prints in 1971, it's unfortunate that they are not options here on the Blu-ray.
An optional audio descriptive track is also included, in lossy Dolby Digital.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the feature in a white font.


Audio Commentary by film historian and critic Sergio Mims (2020)
This audio commentary has critic Sergio Mims, host and producer of the weekly Bad Mutha' Film Show on Chigago's WHPK FM radio discussing the film in a solo run. He discusses where it fits in 1970s cinema, biographies of the actors as well as the production crew and more. Unfortunately this may be one of the weakest audio commentaries in recent memory. The audio sounds hollow like it was recorded with a broken microphone. He may have had notes, as the sound of rustling papers is frequent, but Mims gets so many things wrong that it's frankly embarassing. He calls Timothy Dalton "Christopher Nolan" at one point and Hal B. Wallis as "Hal B. Warner" in another, pronounces Vanessa Redgrave's brother Corin's name as as "Colin" and a few other naming mistakes. He references non-existent films such as "Gunfight at OK Creale" and "Little Caesar's" ("Pizza, Pizza?"), obviously mispronouncing the actual titles. When he is about to mention who directed the 2018 film version, he stumbles, and draws a blank, sifts through notes and says he doesn't know. This sounds closer to a two hour presentation by a high schooler who printed Wikipedia notes that same morning, with mispronounced names and titles, jumbled sentences filled with "um..." and whatever else. He barely compares the historical facts and the film's liberties, and he literally gives up four minutes before the end of the film, signing off early. There are so many things wrong with this commentary that it's probably in need of a separate commentary to point out all of Mim's misses. Though in some fairness, Mims does apologize for some of his gaffes and corrects himself at times after the fact. It seems like Mims has never heard of how to edit his own audio and neither did the commentary producer, to fix the errors or do a second take to make some changes. What Mims or any other critic interested in how to do an audio commentary should do is listen to the audio commentary by director Frank Darabont on "The Green Mile". No only does he give incredibly informative information on the film and its background, at one point he talks about how the commentary was done, using editing techniques to take out "ums" and "uhs", how to edit separate recording sessions for a seamless ride for listeners, and interviewing the recording engineers as well. And then there are ones like this one... "Mary, Queen of Scots" deserves a lot better and the BFI should have considered dropping this commentary rather than porting it over, or rather have had a Royal historian commentary made instead. Note this was originally included on the US Kino Lorber Blu-ray from 2020.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Isolated Music-only Track with commentary by film historians Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame
This 2007 commentary features the late Nick Redman (of Twilight Time) and film music historian Jon Burlingame along with isolated music tracks. Played out like a radio session, the two comment on the film and its music in between the songs, discussing composer John Barry's music cues, the emotions and themes presented, comparisons to Barry's other scores, working with the director and producer for the score's production, and more. There are also comments about the film itself from the actors and the reception, though it is more centered on the music as one should expect. A great commentary here. Note this was originally included on the US Universal DVD from 2007.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Riding High: Frances White remembers Mary, Queen of Scots" 2022 interview (5:53)
This new interview with Frances White has her recalling the film in which she played the small role Mary Fleming. She recalls the riding scene with Redgrave while they were both blind without their glasses, the costumes, as well as getting ill during production.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Now and Then: Vanessa Redgrave" 1968 interview (30:30)
Presented here is a never before seen interview with Redgrave conducted by journalist Bernard Braden, for the unrealized television series "Now and Then". Rather than focusing on Redgrave's theatrical roles, it is more of a discussion on politics such as the happenings in Cuba and Vietnam, and the importance of activism for her. The interviews are in an uncut form in three reels, with slates and microphone checks being included without edits.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"The Guardian Lecture: Glenda Jackson" 1982 interview (audio only) (77:00)
This on stage interview with Jackson took place on May 9th, 1982 at the National Film Theatre in which she discusses her career at length. From her start as an actress, her working relationship with theater director Peter Brook (who passed away earlier this month at the age of 97), working with Ken Russell, her television works, the interesting failure in the UK and unexpected arthouse hit in the US for the 1978 film "Stevie" which she was very proud of, the difficulties for females in the acting and entertainment business, and much more. This is an audio only extra which plays as an alternate audio track over the film. After the interview ends, the audio reverts to the film's audio track for the rest of the duration.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Image Gallery (5:18)
A silent automated slideshow gallery of production photos
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Promotional Trailer (3:39)
An extended original theatrical trailer is presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

A 20 page booklet isi included with the first pressing. First is the essay "There's Something About Mary", written by film writer and lecturer Ellen Cheshire, which looks at the film as well as comparisons to other filmed adaptations over the years and the real life events. There are also written biographies of Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements and stills.

As mentioned before, the film previously received a Blu-ray release in North America from Kino Lorber. the commentaries and the trailer have been carried over to this UK release, with some great added extras making this the preferable edition. Frankly the Mims audio commentary is a letdown and should have been replaced with a better researched and better edited one.

Other notable extras:

A clip from "Mary, Queen of Scots" from the BFI.

Glenda Jackson at the Royal premiere.

Glenda Jackson Q&A from 2022, discussing her career in film, in politics, including "Mary, Queen of Scots".


The packaging mistakenly states the overture and intermission from the Roadshow version is included. It only includes the original theatrical version.

The cover art is reversible, with a choice of Mary or Elizabeth.


"Mary, Queen of Scots" is classical period drama done right, with great performances, and a timeless yet captivating story of one woman's rise and fall. The BFI's Blu-ray release is an excellent one with a good transfer of the film with lengthy extras included. The commentary is a letdown, but overall it is still highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: B+


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