Mary Queen of Scots had what may be described as a colourful life: named Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old; briefly Queen Consort of France; widowed at eighteen; two more miserable marriages; religious battles; the loss of her son; forced abdication; imprisonment in both Scotland and England – the latter for nineteen years; and finally execution. A dream character for a film-maker looking to make a melodramatic costume movie – especially when contrasted with her virginal cousin, Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson).
So Charles Jarrott and Hal Wallis, fresh from Anne of the Thousand Days, needed to look no further than the rivalry between Anne Boleyn’s daughter and Mary for their next movie. Apparently they even wanted Geneviève Bujold for the title role but she turned it down, refusing to be typecast in movies about English queens. So Vanessa Redgrave who had originally been cast as Queen Elizabeth was recast as Mary and Glenda Jackson – fresh off playing Elizabeth in the BBC mini-series Elizabeth R – got to play Queen Elizabeth for the second time in the same year.
For Elizabeth R Glenda Jackson had her head partially shaven to achieve Elizabeth’s hairline; I don’t know whether she did so a second time for the movie.
Vincent Canby of the New York Times dismissed the result as ‘a loveless, passionless costume drama’. Roger Ebert was a little kinder: after noting its ‘soap-opera approach to history’, he delivered the back-handed compliment:
Historical dramas can be fun if you approach them in the right spirit, and I enjoyed ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’ a lot more than ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’.
George Frost was the chief makeup artist; according to IMDb Hugh Richards was a makeup artist (uncredited).