Bloody Queens: Elizabeth and Mary, BBC2 - TV review: If the rivalry between these cousins was an EastEnders plot, we’d never believe it

This was all about the words, after all and the very human insights letters and contemporary accounts give us

Sally Newall
Monday 01 February 2016 23:15
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Ruff life: Beth Cooke as Mary, Queen of Scots in ‘Bloody Queens: Elizabeth and Mary’
Ruff life: Beth Cooke as Mary, Queen of Scots in ‘Bloody Queens: Elizabeth and Mary’

“You can’t choose your family, the old adage goes. If Mary, Queen of Scots had been able to, she wouldn’t have come to such a sticky end. But the sixteenth century would have been a hell of a lot less interesting. Had the rivalry between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth explored in this hour been part of a plot on EastEnders, we probably wouldn’t have believed it. The relationship had it all: murder; false imprisonment; extra-marital affairs; dethronement.

But there’s a reason why this was the first time the women’s letters had been dramatised on television: they never actually met. So while this was a fascinating reminder of the power struggle between young Protestant and Catholic queens, it probably would have worked just as well on the radio.

This was all about the words, after all and the very human insights letters and contemporary accounts give us. “He is the lustiest and best-proportioned tall man that I have ever seen,” Mary said of her future husband Lord Darnley (otherwise known as Henry Stuart). I’ve seen paintings of that Darnley chap and there must have been slim pickings in 1650s Scotland. Talking-head historians helped to sex-up proceedings, recounting words from other sources. “When she smiled it was like pure sunshine…then on would come a storm and thunderous weather would fall upon them all,” was one gem courtesy of Elizabeth’s godson Sir John Harrington, delivered by writer and historian Jessie Childs.

Helen Bradbury was a convincing Virgin Queen and Beth Cooke had a strong screen presence as the tragic Mary, but I was a bit confused by the use of the RP accent, given Mary spent her formative years in France and lived north of the border. Still, it’s what she said that was memorable, not how it was delivered

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