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



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.


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.


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


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.




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.



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



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.


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.


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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