Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reluctant Queen

In the 1985 film Lady Jane, Helena Bonham Carter plays doomed queen Lady Jane Gray. Poor Jane is happily absorbed in her books when the scheming Duke of Northumberland decides that Jane, 5th in line for the throne, would make a fine match for his youngest son, the drunken and carousing Guilford. Jane objects, and is beaten by her harridan of a mother, and would likely never have agreed unless her cousin, the doomed King Edward VI, talked her into the match. She is unimpressed when she first meets her betrothed, and his behavior at the wedding dinner dose nothing to reassure her.

However, once the two teenagers embark on their married lives away from their families, they fall in love (well, they did in the film at least). Once King Edward VI dies, Jane and Guilford are called back to London, where to Jane's horror, she is crowned Queen. Eventually persuaded by her husband, Jane soon decides to use her new found power to reform the country. This is where, for me, the film really broke down. Her ideas were decidedly 20th century: giving land to the peasants, clearing out her closet and donating her gowns to the poor, starting schools where children will be taught with love and not beaten, and so on.

Naturally, that state of affairs can't go on forever, and so after a rule of only 9 days, poor Jane is removed from the throne and tossed into the Tower of London. Her Catholic cousin, Mary, meanwhile takes over the crown. Jane's father, however, won't let things lie, and continues to try to stage a rebellion which will return Jane to the throne. This doesn't sit will with Mary, or the Spanish ambassador (who is attempting to arrange Mary's marriage to a Spanish prince), so the threat of Jane and Guilford must be eliminated.

Apparently, although many of the events in the story are not entirely accurate, the execution scene involving Jane is. After being blindfolded, Jane is told to put her head on the block, but she is unable to find it and cries out.

The costumes and scenery are beautiful, and the youthful Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes (the Princess Bride was still a few years off) are very good in their roles. Even if the love story and other historical events weren't entirely accurate, the film is a nice introduction to a turbulent time in British history.

Final Verdict for Lady Jane: Three Gherkins, for being a visually impressive, if somewhat fanciful retelling of the life of Lady Jane Gray

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