July 14th, 2004

Salt Precaution

Ford and the Queens

Too bloody hot around here . . .

Watched John Ford's Mary of Scotland. It starred Katharine Hepburn in the title role and she was very good. The costumes and sets were gorgeous and Ford's use of shadows and silhouettes is brilliant.

There must've been a big pressure in those days to have movies end on an upbeat because this one's ending is a curious moment where Mary's lover is dead, her kingdom and child under the control of her enemies, and she herself is walking up to the scaffold. And even so, she gets a hopeful smile on her face as the music swells.

Just a few minutes earlier, Queen Elizabeth visited Mary in her cell to gloat. Even though the actress playing Elizabeth was clearly instructed to portray her as a villainess, it's hard to ignore the nobility and wisdom in her words to Mary as she makes the case that because Mary wouldn't sacrifice her lovelife for the greater good of her country, she's lost everything. Elizabeth talks about how she sacrificed everything else about herself for the good of England.

It's downright funny that the movie wants us to think something great is happening when Mary realises aloud that she wins because Elizabeth, with no heirs, will be succeeded by Mary's son, James. Yeah, congratulations, Mary. There may be mayhem and murder as a result but . . . well, at least you've won. Er, sort of.

It's interesting to compare this movie with the newer Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchet. Many of exactly the same events occur, but there's a better truth in the actors' motivations.

But, again, Mary of Scotland was good. Costumes, castles, John Ford . . . You know, I have to wonder if Ford new exactly what he was doing. If he wanted us to see the foolishness through the movie glamour . . . Really, it's not very unlike John Wayne's character in Ford's The Searchers. Wayne's character was a psyhcotic racist, but he's played like the hero half the time. What an interesting period for moral ambiguity in Hollywood history . . .
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