Stars a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes. Sir Patrick Stewart portrays Jane’s father, Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk. Joss Ackland, who is the wise and loveable Hans from The Mighty Ducks (along with the scheming Victor Landbergh in 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street, and was Andrei Lysenko in The Hunt for Red October) briefly appears here as Sir John Bridges. Lady Jane Grey, rarely referred to as Queen Jane, appears as a footnote in English history; she ruled for only nine days.
When Henry VIII died in 1547, his young son, Edward VI, aged nine, ascended to the throne. His uncle, Edward Seymour, ruled as Lord Protector and named himself the Duke of Somerset. But he was replaced in 1552 by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, who became the Duke of Northumberland and the new Lord Protector (Duke is a higher rank than Earl). This is where the movie picks up. Dudley, like many others advising the young king, want to keep England Protestant after Henry’s split from the Catholic church. Henry VIII’s will laid out that if Edward died without children, the crown would pass to his eldest daughter Mary, a staunch Catholic, then to his younger daughter, Elizabeth. But, if Dudley and his cronies pass over both Mary and Elizabeth as bastards, as they were declared when Edward was born, they can pick up the Tudor line with Henry’s youngest sister, Mary, who had married Charles, the Duke of Suffolk and had a daughter, Frances, who married Henry Grey and they had Lady Jane. (Henry’s other sister, Margaret, was married to James IV of Scotland, and in this movie is declared not a valid to pass the crown, though not explained why. This familial line will come into play after Elizabeth I passes). Most importantly, Lady Jane was a devout Protestant.
Dudley wonders about marrying Jane to Edward, but it is clear that Edward will not live long enough to bear children. Edward is shown hunting with her father, but when her father rebukes her for her interest in books, rather than things useful to a husband, Edward shows her kindness. Jane is shown visiting the princess Mary in 1553, where Mary warns her to take care. Dudley decides to marry Jane to his youngest son, Guilford. Neither child is pleased about the arrangement. Guilford is shown drinking in taverns and was dragged out of a brothel. Jane fights the engagement, declaring she doesn’t want to marry anyone (though I don’t think she would have opposed a marriage to Edward; they got along very well). Her mother beats her, repeatedly. Still Jane refuses, not believing that the king wishes this for her. Dudley retrieves Edward to talk to Jane. He tells her it is her duty to obey her parents, and her king. Edward trusts Dudley (wise modern adults do not) She finally relents.
Edward collapses after his visits and the doctor tells Dudley the young king has only a week left to live. Dudley commands the doctor to keep Edward alive, using arsenic, to give him more time. I don’t believe this is been completely proven, but it is one theory some historians have. The marriage between Jane and Guilford does not start well. Jane has no desire to live has husband and wife, instead, she wishes to devote herself to her studies. And Guildford gets drunk at their feast and passes out in the marriage bed. They are to live at the old monastery of Hertfordshire, until their parents have need of them. Peasants greet the couple on the road and want their land back. When Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic monasteries, the lands were stripped from the peasants who worked it and the treasures inside were distributed to loyal courtiers. Guildford explains this to Jane, who has studied philosophy and theology, but doesn’t quite understand the world around her. He also explains that a shilling is no longer worth a shilling since it’s not made out of silver (similar to our penny. Used to be made out of copper, now it’s made out of zinc). When Jane demands why doesn’t he do anything if he sees this problem, he shouts back that it never works. He later apologizes to Jane and asks her to explain her beliefs. They start getting to know one another and their passions. Which leads to them consummating their marriage and turns everything around.
They spend several happy days together, a true honeymoon. They share their wishes; Jane wishes for the country to be true to the Protestant faith. Guildford wishes that men wouldn’t be branded for beggary when they have no land to farm. They wish that children would be loved, for a better world. Meanwhile, Dudley convinces Edward to change the succession and make Jane his heir. Once he has that, he allows Edward to die. The Privy Council argues the new succession; both Mary and Elizabeth are threats. But Dudley has his way and the couple, already fearing their parents’ scheme, plan to run, but are given word of Edward’s death and taken to…possibly Westminster, they never say. Jane is declared Queen and she tries to say it’s not right. She would be aware that Mary would be next in line. But everyone kneels and her mother leads her to the throne. She’s crowned and they urge her to name Guildford king. She cries out for her husband and he breaks away from his brothers to comfort his wife. The people are ordered out so they can speak. Guildford explains that together, they are like a coin, two parts of a whole. They can work together. Guildford wants her to be queen; she lets him crown her.
The people aren’t too keen on Jane being Queen; they want Mary. They want a return to the familiar. Mary sends a letter declaring herself as queen. Jane’s first command is that she wants a real shilling; one actually made of silver. She dismisses the Spanish Ambassador, stating that her people and their suffering comes first. He’s insulted when she mentions “wardrobe” to Guildford, not realizing that she is donating the royal wardrobe to the poor. Jane and Guildford also want a school for the poor children, the monastery land returned to the poor. Jane argues with their fathers on who should lead the army against Mary. Jane wants her father close, though Dudley had arranged for Henry to lead. Guildford suggests Dudley lead. Frances recalls that Dudley claimed he could control his son, and shouts that her daughter is stupid.
Only nine days have passed and her Council is gone. Guildford looks on it that now they are really ruling England. Jane just wants it to be over. Henry comes in; it is. Mary is pronounced queen. Henry tries to apologize and makes amends to Jane, but Frances insist they flee. Guards separate Guildford and Jane and take them to separate cells in the Tower of London. Dudley failed at leading the army and is imprisoned as well. I don’t understand his confrontation with Guildford, though he seems to be switching sides, to save his own skin.
Mary has Jane brought to her. She understands that this was not Jane’s fault. They will be tried and condemned, but Mary has the power of reprieve, which she will use. But Mary also loves Philip of Spain, who is to be her husband. The Spanish Ambassador, on word from Charles V, the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor (her mother’s nephew, making him Mary’s cousin), insists that all discord must be gone before Philip will marry her. Then Henry joins the rebel forces to put his daughter back on the throne, insisting to his wife “I owe it to my daughter! She has need of me!” The rebellion ultimately fails and forces Mary’s hand. The couple may be saved, if they renounce Protestantism. They are allowed to see each other, but cannot speak. Mary’s confessor, whom Jane met two years prior, tries to convert Jane. But her will is strong and he cannot condemn a belief so pure. He allows them one last night. The couple can keep their ideas untarnished and will be alive together in the afterlife. “We’ll fly, away, beyond their reach. So far that their touch cannot tarnish us. And at last we will be – nothing – nobody – each other’s – only this time, forever.” Guildford is led away first. The confessor describes to Jane what happened to her husband as she is led to the private gallows. The shilling survives all this and Mary shows grief for just a moment, then goes to greet her husband. Lady Suffolk curtsies to Mary and the closing narration echoes a passage from Plato that Jane translated for the confessor at the beginning of the movie: “Soul takes flight to a world that is invisible. But there arriving, she is sure of bliss. And forever dwells in Paradise.”
I feel this is an underappreciated film. While there were dramatic scenes added I’m sure, this did follow history much better than other movies. No, Lady Suffolk most likely would not have been part of Mary’s court that soon after her husband’s failed rebellion (and he most likely would have rebelled more so he could control his daughter on the throne – but we want to believe the best from Patrick Stewart) and on the day of her daughter’s execution. But it does show that parents controlled their children’s destinies and those children didn’t often have a choice. Jane didn’t want to be queen; she was never trained to be queen because the likelihood of her becoming queen had been slim. Jane and Guildford were not instantly in love. It took compromise and swallowing their own pride and a willingness to hear other ideas. But they were so cute together; wonderful performances from Helena and Cary. I appreciate that they made Mary appear human and not completely mad or crazy, as she is often depicted in Tudor stories.
Next Time: We go back to Henry VIII proper with The Other Boleyn Girl