ⓘ Mary of Scotland (film)


ⓘ Mary of Scotland (film)

Mary of Scotland is a 1936 RKO film starring Katharine Hepburn as the 16th-century ruler Mary, Queen of Scots. Directed by John Ford, it is an adaptation of the 1933 Maxwell Anderson play. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols. It is largely in blank verse. Ginger Rogers wanted to play this role and made a convincing screen test, but RKO rejected her request to be cast in the part feeling that the role was not suitable to Miss Rogers image.


1. Plot summary

Mary Katharine Hepburn, by assuming her throne as queen of Scotland, strikes terror into the heart of Queen Elizabeth I Florence Eldridge. After languishing in jail for 18 years at Elizabeths command, Mary is offered a pardon if she will sign away her throne. Will she accept the deal, or die instead?


2. Accuracy

The film does not keep close to the historical truth, portraying Mary as something of a wronged martyr and her third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell played by Fredric March, as a romantic hero.


3. Reception

Contemporary reviews were generally positive. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote it had a "blend of excellence and mere adequacy." He wrote that the film had "depth, vigor and warm humanity" but had scenes which "lack the vitality they possessed in the play", and considered Hepburns characterization of the title role rather too soft in comparison with the historical Mary. Variety praised the "extra-strong cast" and Fords "sure-footed" direction. Hepburns performance was described as "not really Mary Stuart but rather Katie Hepburn. And that is all in the films favor because it humanizes it all and makes it that much more nearly acceptable." However, the review also found the film too long and the ending too sad, and conceding it could not end any other way without "completely corrupting history." "Impressive historical drama finely acted and produced with all-around distinction", reported Film Daily. Motion Picture Daily called the film "a splendidly powerful drama" with a "sincere, intelligent and genuine" performance by Hepburn. Russell Maloney reviewed the film negatively in The New Yorker, writing that despite its high production values, "it has little or nothing to do with Maxwell Andersons play. Any other historical drama of the period could have been sandwiched in between these scenes and it wouldnt have made a bit of difference." Of Hepburns performance, Maloney wrote that she had "the cards stacked against her from the very start, because pageantry naturally interferes with characterization."

The film is highly regarded by a few critics today, but in its time was a box-office flop, making a loss of $165.000. This was Katharine Hepburns second flop in a row causing her to being labeled "box office poison" in the late 1930s, leading to after a two-year screen absence her move to MGM for her comeback in The Philadelphia Story.