Set and costume designer
Unexpectedly allowed by Talbot to walk freely in the park outside her prison of Fotheringhay Castle, Mary rejoices, running far ahead of her lady-in-waiting, Hannah Kennedy. Her thoughts turn to times of happiness and liberty in France. The horns of the royal hunt are suddenly heard in the distance. The approaching huntsmen cry out Elizabeth’s name and Mary is struck with fear at the prospect of finally setting eyes on her cousin. Leicester has ridden ahead of the hunt to prepare Mary for the meeting. He urges her to humble herself before Elizabeth and move the Queen to pity. Pledging his love and loyalty, he promises Mary that she may yet be free. He hastens to greet Elizabeth as she arrives with the hunting party. She is agitated and suspicious and Leicester’s solicitude for Mary’s cause rouses her jealousy. Talbot leads Mary forward and the two queens stare into each other’s eyes for the first time. Mary masters her pride and shows deference before Elizabeth but her cousin remains aloof and insulting. She accuses Mary of licentiousness, murder, and treason. The tender words with which Leicester tries to calm Mary serve only to increase Elizabeth’s anger. Insulted beyond endurance, Mary turns on Elizabeth. She denounces her as the illegitimate offspring of a whore, one who’s foot sullies and dishonors the throne of England. Elizabeth orders the guards to seize Mary and drag her back to her prison.
In her room at Fotheringhay, Mary rails bitterly against her fortune. Suddenly, Cecil and Talbot enter to tell her that she must die in the morning. Cecil offers her the services of a Protestant minister in her final hours. Angrily, she refuses and commands him to leave but asks Talbot to stay. He tells her that Leicester will be present when she dies and tries to comfort her. But Mary is tormented by the ghosts of her past and longs to make the confession to God that Cecil has denied her by refusing the ministrations of a Catholic priest. Her heart is heavy with the bloody memories of her short reign in Scotland, and the deaths of her beloved favorite, David Rizzio, and her husband, Darnley. Gently, Talbot urges her to confess to him. She agrees and begins to unburden her conscience. Finally, she confesses her unwitting acquiescence in the fatal plot of the English Catholic, Sir Anthony Babington, to assassinate Elizabeth. She and Talbot pray together for God’s absolution and Mary calmly prepares for death.
Early next morning, Mary’s faithful servants gather, weeping outside the great hall of Fotheringhay, where Mary will be beheaded. The Queen enters. She asks them not to shed tears, as death comes to liberate her. She gives Hannah a silken handkerchief to bind her eyes when the moment comes and leads the household in a fervent prayer. The shot of a cannon on the ramparts above signals that the time of execution is near and Cecil arrives with guards to conduct Mary into the hall. Elizabeth has sent word that all requests should be granted her in her final moments and Mary asks that Hannah may accompany her to the scaffold. She tells Cecil that she forgives her cousin and prays that her blood will wash away all memory of hatred between them. Leicester suddenly appears, distraught, as more shots of the cannon indicate the time has come. Mary calms him. She is content that she will die with him close at hand. She prays that England may be spared the vengeful wrath of God. Dressed in red, the color of Catholic martyrdom, she ascends the scaffold.
2 hours 56 minutes, with one interval
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