Lady Jane

I mentioned Lady Jane a couple of days back, and so felt motivated to watch it again, having caught only half of it once about 20 years ago. It’s the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for just nine days, back in the 1500s. It’s your usual tale of intrigue, betrayal, sex and scandals, social unrest and gory death – and that’s just the parts of the story that are actually true. Queen Jane was placed on the throne through the machinations of the ruling Council, ignoring the established line of succession. It’s no major spoiler to admit that this plan went horribly, horribly awry.

Young King Edward is dying, and the regent John Dudley first marries off Edward’s cousin Jane to his own son Guildford (Cary Elwes), and then cons the king into making Jane queen. The throne should – of course – have gone to his sister Mary, but she’s a Catholic and the country is Protestant following their dad Henry VIII’s rebellion against the Pope.

Jane is a wilful, very intelligent and educated girl with a devout faith in the new religion. She’s none too keen on new hubby Guildford, until he declares his interest in politics and suddenly he’s the 16th century answer to Ryan Gosling. Jane has little interest in becoming queen until he tells her they can effect real change and so, with considerable reluctance, she accepts her new position.

As a naive, idealistic teenager I thought Helena Bonham Carter’s Jane was amazing – an inspiration to all. Watching it now, her behaviour as queen is

Doh.

Jane’s dad, Henry (Patrick Stewart), tries to instill some sense into her, but she’s having absolutely none of it. The trouble is that he’s too self-servingly cynical, and her-and-Guildford’s ideas for social reform are wonderful in theory, but in practice are just

Well, you get the point.

For a start, trying to end historical injustice on land distribution by just grabbing it and handing it to the oppressed poor generally ends in carnage, and if you snottily tell the Spanish ambassador that you’re too busy to see him because the peasants are starving, he’s not going to applaud you for your social conscience.

I’m amazed she lasted nine days.

Of course, none of this happened in real life. Poor Jane Grey spent her entire reign in the Tower of London before – as depicted in the film – Queen Mary (Jane Lapotaire) shows up and nabs back her crown before marrying the future King of Spain – all with the enthusiastic support of the oppressed poor. (Doh!)

Just like Jane Austen films end with a wedding, royal histories tend to end with a beheading, and the death scene is still quite affecting.

All of the acting is – as you’d expect – excellent and it’s still a very entertaining film. It’s just rather painful in that watching-a-car-crash-in-slow-motion way, and will likely leave you with a sore forehead.

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