Firelit effigies: Thomas Imbach’s ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (2013)

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In exploring the mindset of a figure clouded by legend, this Swiss-made retelling has a beautiful atmosphere. It uses shore, mountain and forest to depict Mary’s psychological terrain; puppet effigies twitch in firelight with folk-ritual precision, and Elizabeth is a constant presence, never made flesh – she is paint or puppet or a glimpse of doppelganger.

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Central to the story is Mary’s court musician and advisor Rizzio. With shades of Hamlet’s ghost, he lends another layer of tragedy to a treatment based on Stefan Zweig’s Maria Stuart with its key notes of suffering and fallibility.

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There are beautiful sequences of Scottish landscape which the director captured himself (though most of the filming was in Switzerland).

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As Mary narrates the letters she writes to Elizabeth, it’s a deathly, rough-hewn and unresponsive backdrop. At her moments of dislocation, the camera flees wraith-like over sea-washed shores or broken forest paths.

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Camille Rutherford captures Mary’s isolation, besieged as a powerful woman, long before she is imprisoned by the English queen, with a grace that captures both youth and regality. It’s a stark, European perspective which shuns Hollywood excess, with a layer of modernity that lies with ease.

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Many sequences foretell a life of imprisonment, with gunmetal-grey lattice and winter’s branches, failing winter light and a cooling sun.

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The years as a prisoner are beautifully distilled to a vision of purgatory: a crown woven with the fabric of her being, stained like Lady Macbeth.

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Mary Queen of Scots is a film that haunts and ebbs and flows. It’s not going to appeal to anyone seeking a history lesson, either gritty or lavish: it’s a theatrical, dramatic sequence of legendary events filtered through a poetic vision of inner life.

It’s released on Region 2 DVD now and also on Amazon Instant Video.

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2 thoughts on “Firelit effigies: Thomas Imbach’s ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (2013)

  1. aubrey

    I was never an admirer of Mary Queen of Scots, and my judgement is quite unfair, I know, but I have often found her ill-advised foolishness quite irritating! However, tragedy, the unfair bloodlines that put her in a court where she did not want to go, her evocative journeys will always make her story hard to resist.

    I like the look of this film – thoughtful, beautiful and bloody, not sentimental – and yet with all the metaphor and modernity, it comes closer to her true story than previous films have dared.

    • Thanks for comment – apologies for tardy reply. Agree entirely and perfectly summed up – she’s not exactly admirable, but it’s her circumstances, the isolation and alienation and haplessness I suppose… the 1971 version with Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave was my introduction, with its wonderful John Barry score.

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