Katharine Hepburn month is now here, and as a bonus, I’m kicking things off. For my nine essays, I’ve decided to take a glimpse into Katharine Hepburn’s career as a dramatic actress by focusing on her roles that really showcased her versatility and indelible talents, instead of discussing her romantic comedies that she was mainly associated with. Today I’m exploring the tragic side of Hepburn with her portrayal of the prominent figure, Mary Stuart in “Mary Of Scotland”.


Mary Stuart is a prominent figure from the 16th century. Hundreds of years later, she is now considered the most controversial and fascinating monarchs of Europe at the time. During the annals of her lifetime, she claimed the crowns of Scotland, France, England and Ireland. Even though her political skills were poor to successfully rule Scotland, she was acknowledged by her enemies for her amiable traits and physical beauty. After three ineffectual marriages, two of them with disastrous results and murder, she fled to England in 1568, where she tried to attain help from her cousin, Elizabeth I. On her arrival, her presence appeared dangerous for Elizabeth, who feared that Mary was taking over her throne. With the calamitous circumstances, the two cousins never met, and Mary remained imprisoned until her execution in 1587.


The 1930’s is not what you call a victorious period in Katharine Hepburn’s career. After appearing in several vehicles that were largely panned by critics and flopped immediately on their release, she earned the title of “Box office poison”. That being said none of these films are bad. Some of them have later gained recognition as the years progressed. One film made during this time is “Mary Of Scotland”, the second picture in a row on Hepburn’s filmography that garnered poor results, mainly for the fact that Hepburn was miscast in the role of Mary Stuart, and would have been better suited to play Elizabeth, which was considered ideal for a redhead with high cheekbones.

“Mary Of Scotland” is a film that you would have to see to appreciate the efforts that went into making it. This production was not done on a cheap budget, and once witnessing the superb cinematography, the miraculous costumes and the convincing exterior and interior scenes, the viewer will be left surprised.


The film was masterfully directed by John Ford, who was known for his prolific westerns and adaptations of notable novels of the 20th century, including “The Grapes Of Wrath”. Prior to this, Ford had been working excessively since the silent era, and would go on to achieve critical acclaim and three more Academy Awards for Best Director.

In “Mary Of Scotland”, John Ford stepped out of his boundaries by directing a film that took place in the palace of Elizabeth and the castle of Mary. He was so use to working in refined open spaces with picturesque landscapes, and shooting with wide angle lens, that placing his directorial efforts in a film that was shot in the back lots of RKO seemed almost unbearable to him.


The film follows the story of Mary Stuart ( Katharine Hepburn ) the tragic heroine of 16th century Europe, who returned to Scotland after two tumultuous marriages.  On her arrival, she is opposed by her half brother and own Scottish lords, who tell her who to marry. At first, Mary claims she will marry nobody, but as a result she becomes engaged to Lord Darnley, instead of the Earl of Bothwell ( Fredric March ), which causes speculation.

Complications arise when Mary assumes her throne as the Queen of Scotland, much to the vexation of Elizabeth, who sees her as a dangerous rival and feels that she’s trying to take her place. From then on, Mary is struck by a series of unpropitious events, that lead to her escape by fleeing to England, where she is imprisoned for eighteen years, until facing execution in 1587.


Even though Katharine Hepburn was miscast in the film, she delivered one of her most commendable performances from the 30’s. Right up until this, Hepburn was mainly playing young women and teenagers, but with “Mary Of Scotland”, she was able to disseminate her range and showcase her inimitable acting talents, which indeed she did, and she executed her role perfectly, making for a performance that should be highly regarded today, but sadly she was disparaged, which I don’t think is fair, considering that Hepburn was only 29 at the time filming took place, and how many actresses at that age would be able to take on such a heavy and dramatic role?

The film also features Fredric March in the role of the Earl of Bothwell. I’ve always found March to be a rather wooden actor, apart from seeing him in an array of enjoyable movies, but surprisingly enough, I was actually impressed by his performance in this, and felt that he deserved a more positive outcome for his efforts.

All in all, “Mary Of Scotland” is an enthralling film, and that is coming from me, who is not really a fan of these type productions, but I’ve always held this movie in high respect, and encourage everyone to give this great classic a viewing, even if it’s only for Katharine Hepburn, who is as captivating as ever.



Katharine Hepburn, who played Queen Mary, is actually a distant relative of the Earl Of Bothwell, whose family name was, in fact, Hepburn.

According to Katharine Hepburn, during the filming of Mary and Bothwell’s love scene, John Ford, rather fed up with the idea of directing a romantic costume drama written in blank verse, simply said to Hepburn, “Here; you direct this scene.” And she did.

Katharine Hepburn credited John Ford with saving her life one day on the set. They were shooting a scene of Hepburn on horseback when the horse she was riding kept going unexpectedly. Ford yelled at Hepburn to duck just before she was about to collide with a low branch.



Mary, Queen of Scots: “I have loved as a woman loves, lost as a woman loses… My son shall sit on the throne! My son shall rule England! Still, still, I win.”

Mary, Queen of Scots: [to Queen Elizabeth I] “I might have known you’d come to gloat like this – stealthily, under cover of night.”

Mary, Queen of Scots: [to Bothwell] “What’s my throne? I’d put a torch to it for any one of the days with you”.



Katharine Hepburn: Born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: June 29th, 2003 in Fenwick, Connecticut. Aged 96.

Fredric March: Born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel on August 31st, 1897 in Racine, Wisconsin. Died: April 14th, 1975 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 77.


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