A large cast of excellent players appears to good advantage under the direction of Charles Jarrott. Superior production details and the cast help overcome an episodic, rambling story.
Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave) emerges as a romantic, immature but idealistic young woman. Her perilous position was repeatedly confounded by the machinations of half-brother (later King) James Stuart (played by Patrick McGoohan), the blunt but well-meant efforts of eventual husband and lover Lord Bothwell (Nigel Davenport), the paranoid homosexual, and bisexual inclinations of second husband Henry Darnley (Timothy Dalton), and the low-key, amiable clerical advisor, David Riccio (Ian Holm).
Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) in contrast had a well-oiled machine of intrigue: advisor William Cecil (Trevor Howard), a power-hungry, lover Robert Dudley (Daniel Massey), and the corrupt cooperation of McGoohan and other Scottish factions.
The result of such a dramatic imbalance renders Redgrave’s character that of a storm-tossed waif, while Jackson benefits from a far more well-defined character.
The face-to-face confrontations between the two women are said to be historically inaccurate. The script almost has to have one, and these brief climactic encounters are electric.
1971: Nominations: Best Actress (Vanessa Redgrave), Costume Design, Art Direction, Original Score, Sound