Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Universal grants the wishes of many film fans with its generous DVD 2-Movie Collection of Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots. Lavishly produced by veteran Hal Wallis, the films were heralded as justification for the new ratings system; the old Production Code did not tolerate 'mature' subjects such as murder, fornication and incest no matter how legitimate the context might be. Taken as a unit, the films span two generations of exciting historical intrigues in the English court, and feature what for 1972 were a number of fresh new actors, at least to American screens: Geneviève Bujold, Glenda Jackson,Timothy Dalton, Ian Holm.
Anne of the Thousand Days
1969 / 146 min.
Starring Richard Burton, Geneviève Bujold, Irene Papas, Anthony Quayle, John Colicos, Michael Hordern, Katharine Blake, Valerie Gearon, Michael Johnson, Peter Jeffrey
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Production Design Maurice Carter
Art Direction Lionel Couch
Original Music Georges Delerue
Written by Bridget Boland, John Hale, Richard Sokolove from the play by Maxwell Anderson
Anne of the Thousand Days continued Hal Walliss' run of classy 'English history lessons' initiated with his 1964 Becket. School history teachers tried to force names and dates down our throats, when they could have gotten our full attention just by saying what bad boy and girls the English monarchs were. If Henry VIII isn't trying to cheat the law to marry whatever woman pleases his fancy, he's risking the future of his nation by disturbing the balance of power between church and state. We might argue that getting Rome out of England's business might have been a good thing, but Henry didn't do it for all the right reasons. What really trips up the monarch is dealing with Anne Boleyn, who determined to come out of the game as a queen and not another castoff royal plaything.
Henry VIII (Richard Burton) wants to divorce Katherine of Aragon (Irene Papas) to take up with Anne Boleyn (Geneviève Bujold), but Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) cannot secure for him the needed Papal divorce. Anne refuses to become Henry's common concubine, having the example of her own sister Elizabeth (Katharine Blake), whom Henry has already bed and discarded. Anne defies her toadying father (Michael Hordern), who has grown rich by offering his daughters up for Henry's amusement. Anne tempts and repels Henry until he takes stern measures against Wolsey. Proving her power, Anne succeeds in marrying Henry but bears him a daughter, not the desired son. By that time she's on the defensive, for Henry has grown tired of her and already has eyes for beautiful Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson). Caught in the middle of Anne and Henry's struggle is Thomas More (William Squire), Wolsey's supposedly 'pliable' replacement.
We're told that the screenwriters revised Maxwell Anderson's play with lots of saucy dialogue about Henry's sexual appetites, making Anne of the Thousand Days more accessible to film audiences. The name of the game at the English court is to indulge the sovereign and hope for his kind generosity, which includes allowing the king to bed nearly any woman he wants. Michael Hordern's Count Boleyn is terrified of losing his ill-gotten properties, gained because his daughter Elizabeth has been sleeping with Henry and is now pregnant by him. Anne has her own ideas about this royal abuse. After Henry thwarts her desired marriage to a man she loves, she opts to play the power game on her own. As long as Henry desires her, Anne can do no wrong; Henry will turn his kingdom and its laws upside down. But once he possesses her -- even though she's fallen in love with him -- Henry predictably loses interest. When she doesn't give him a male heir, she becomes a liability.
Anne of the Thousand Days reframes the pageantry of a great monarch as a story of a really rotten marriage. Because politics preclude any pretense of equality or honesty, Anne must fight with whatever weapons she has. Men both important (Wolsey) and great (More) are destroyed in the process, while Anne's bad luck of bearing a daughter condemns her to a terrible fate. If we like Anne it's because she's alone and must rely totally on her wits -- her parents think it's her duty to prostitute herself and the corrupt Wolsey would never think of taking her side. Previously seen in King of Hearts and briefly in La guerre est finie, Geneviève Bujold shines as the spirited, strong-willed Anne, who can get away with calling Henry "spoiled, vengeful and bloody" because he wants her so badly. Sex is the key.
Richard Burton's Henry VIII is a despicable louse incapable of separating his caprices from God's will; to put the right woman in his bed he'll send his kingdom into a tailspin. Henry puts good men to death for disagreeing with him. That practice elevates the conniving lawyer Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) into a position of unearned power, twisting the law and forcing testimony from innocent victims to support whatever the king wants to do. When a second divorce is rejected, Henry gets rid of Anne through false claims of adultery, incest and witchcraft.
Irene Papas has a number of very good scenes as the faithful Queen Katherine, and Anthony Quayle is excellent as old Wolsey, harassed and outflanked by a mere girl. Anne of the Thousand Days is a bit like a marriage and divorce from Hell. When Anne adds up what she's accomplished in life, she can only find 100 days of happiness. The rest of her time was spent resisting Henry, manipulating him or being persecuted and abused by him. Anne has the character to carry herself with dignity, all the way to the end. Anne earns our respect by refusing to compromise her honor.
Mary, Queen of Scots
1972 / 128 132 min.
Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton, Nigel Davenport, Trevor Howard, Daniel Massey, Ian Holm, Andrew Keir
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Production Design Terence Marsh
Art Direction Robert Cartwright
Original Music John Barry
Written by John Hale
Hal Wallis's 1972 follow-up Mary, Queen of Scots is an improvement by virtue of a story with more variety of character and incident. Director Charles Jarrott repeats from Anne of the Thousand Days and has a much bigger canvas to work with. The film also benefits from a great score by John Barry. Although they meet only briefly at the end (in history, they apparently never did) Mary of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I are a dynamic pair of battling monarchs. Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson make stunning combatants, surrounded by a gallery of terrific actors.
Mary (Vanessa Redgrave) is the wife of the King of France. After his death she decides to return to her Scotland, where she is the acknowledged queen. Her Catholic subjects urge her to reclaim her title to all of England, a sentiment that puts the fiery Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson) on alert. Mary discovers that her brooding brother James Stuart (Patrick McGoohan) wants to neutralize her power by marrying her off to a Protestant of his choosing. The Earl of Bothwell (Nigel Davenport) sides with Mary's independent stance, but he fails repeatedly to make her understand that she must be ruthless to keep her scheming nobles at bay. Elizabeth sends two possible suitors north, knowing that Mary will fall for the untrustworthy Lord Henry Darnley (Timothy Dalton). To Bothwell's dismay Mary weds Darnley, who immediately tries to assert himself as the king and master over his wife. Darnley is also bisexual and jealous of Mary's friendship with David Rizzio (Ian Holm), an Italian advisor who is actually Mary's contact with France and Rome. Mary is able to block her brother James' attempt to oust her, but refuses to have him imprisoned or executed. The nobles find Darnley easy to manipulate, and Mary's kingdom comes crashing down.
Anne of the Thousand Days is at heart a tale of a miserable marriage. Mary, Queen of Scots is a much more complicated and demanding tale of multiple intrigues. The contrasting approaches to rule by Mary and Elizabeth are a lesson in the use of power. The romantic and spirited Mary believes that her good intentions and merciful nature will prevail, while Elizabeth sees every event as another chess problem. Mary makes a couple of initial mistakes (a foolish marriage, trusting her brother) that seem to seal her fate. Elizabeth puts the management of her kingdom ahead of everything, staying at all times a full two steps ahead of her royal competitor.
John Ford tried this same story 36 years before for RKO and failed miserably. Although it does paraphrase history a bit, Hal Wallis's Mary, Queen of Scots can be more honest about the religious and sexual aspects. Mary is hobbled by a bitter struggle between Catholics and Protestants while Elizabeth's power is held separately from the Church. We see Elizabeth's calculated maneuverings and recognize Mary's big mistakes, and can only conclude that in a royal viper's nest the sovereign has no choice but to be the most ruthless snake of all.
The more 'feminine' Mary allows herself to be guided by her heart, but her enemies consider sincerity and mercy to be weaknesses. After gestures of leniency, Mary's rotten brother betrays her not once but twice. The more 'masculine' Elizabeth is miserable because she cannot bear children and cannot continue her line. She's absolutely ruthless with those who oppose her and is careful never to show weakness. When she refuses Mary passage through England, Elizabeth knows exactly what she's doing. Mary's indecision allows her Scottish enemies to take action, and she spends most of her unhappy reign defending herself. When her advisor is murdered, her enemies are ready with all kinds of slurs and accusations against her. Instead of openly getting rid of a disloyal husband, Mary botches a faked accident, which allows Elizabeth to brand her a murderer. The lesson about power seems to be to strike first, hit hard, and never let one's guard down.
Mary, Queen of Scots has a score of impressive performances. Vanessa Redgrave expresses Mary's confusion without becoming a ninny or an indecisive wax dummy, like poor Katharine Hepburn in Ford's picture. Glenda Jackson is the only Elizabeth 1 that puts images of Bette Davis out of one's memory; she really seems to be the grown-up version of the little girl at the end of Anne of the Thousand Days, borne of one of the worst marriages in history. Patrick McGoohan is solid as the stern and unyielding James Stuart. He leads a pack of loutish (and smelly) Scottish lairds, Andrew Kier among them. Nigel Davenport is a great Earl of Bothwell, a fine man who might have prevailed had he been more assertive with Mary.
The relatively young future Hobbit Ian Holm shines as David Rizzio, the Papal spy who ends up on the wrong side of a pack of Scottish knives. John Carradine played Rizzio in the 1936 Ford version. Timothy Dalton is the sniveling fool Henry Darnley, whose treachery ruins everything for Mary; Dalton makes himself into a real weasel for this part. Scattered about in smaller roles are Trevor Howard and Daniel Massey. Charles Jarrott's direction keeps the complicated story running very smoothly. John Hale's creative script dodges the history books by having Mary and Elizabeth's forest meeting take place in secret. The trick works because the scene has to be there ... we need a nose-to-nose confrontation between these powerful females.
Universal's double bill of Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots presents both films in fine enhanced transfers with proper Panavision framing. Both are in English 2.0 with English and French subtitles only. Mary, Queen of Scots recreates the road show experience with five additional minutes of overture and intermission music, over black. We're reminded that it was originally released in 70mm. Mary, Queen of Scots also has a separate isolated music track. Commentators Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame discuss the film and composer John Barry between cues. An old 'promotional featurette' for Mary, Queen of Scots is actually a rather long original trailer. An extended promo for the new Elizabeth: The Golden Age destroys all interest for that show, by sampling what must be every dramatic situation in digest form.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Anne of the Thousand Days & Mary, Queen of Scots rates:
Movies: Both Excellent
Video: Both Excellent
Sound: Excellent Dolby 2.0 English
Supplements: Isolated music and commentary track with Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame on Mary, Queen of Scots
Packaging: 2 discs in Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: October 3, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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