The performances of Harriet Walter as a bone-dry, tartly iconic Elizabeth and Janet McTeer as an impulsive, sensuous Mary have grown in depth and complexity. In an inspired touch, the shared predicament of the rival queens - one literally imprisoned, the other captive to her scheming courtiers - is emphasised by isolating them in 16th-century dress amid a mêlée of machinating politicos in modern grey suits.
But then, every detail in the production is brilliantly judged. There's a downpour just before the fictional meeting at Fotheringay. McTeer's drenched Mary should be at a disadvantage, but in a spurt of thrilling recklessness and pride, she lets fly with the fatal accusation that gnaws at the Queen's insecurities: "The throne of England is desecrated by a bastard."
The production conjures up a world of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy. There's black wit in Schiller's handling of this shifty milieu. Guy Henry excellently conveys both the suave bad faith and the veiled panic of the double-dealing Earl of Leicester: "True, I voted for her [Mary's] death in court. But this is the council of state. That was justice. This is the national interest."
Young Mortimer (Rory Kinnear) comes across as an inept precursor of today's fundamentalists. A Catholic convert, he's desperate to free Mary, but his bungled blend of aspiring martyrdom and erotic infatuation results in a splendid scene where she has to fight off the advances of this importunate would-be saviour.
June Watson is terribly touching as Mary's old nurse, suppressing her own grief to support her mistress on the way to the scaffold. At the end, abandoned by favourites and advisers, Walter's Queen cuts a figure of haunting loneliness.
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