Thursday 14 November 2013

Das Herz der Königin (1940)

Zarah Leander IS Mary Queen of Scots.
There are plenty of English-language films about foreign history - 'Nicholas and Alexandra' (1971), for instance, about the death of the Tsar of Russia, or almost any film about Jesus, so I've long been curious about foreign films about English history.  Are there Indian films about Cromwell, or Russian biopics of Queen Victoria?

'Das Herz der Königin' is exactly what I'd been looking for - a film made in Nazi Germany about Mary Queen of Scots' imprisonment and (spoiler) execution by Queen Elizabeth of England.  It's a bit of history I don't really know, as it wasn't on the syllabus in my youth.  I read the first half of Antonia Fraser's biography of Mary last year, so have a vague understanding of the queen and her times, but since I didn't ever finish the (good and thorough) book, the end of Mary's life is something I first learned about from this film.

I think this may be Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who I've much enjoyed in Fritz Lang's
'Metropolis' (1927), 'Die Nibelungen' (1924), and the Dr Mabuse films (1922, 1933)
The history is something like this: England and 'Schottland' were completely separate nations back then, and their queens, Elizabeth and Mary, were cousins who always wanted to meet.  Catholic Scotland believed Mary was the real heir to England's throne, as, refusing to recognise Henry VIII's divorce, they considered Elizabeth illegitimate and thus an ineligible heir.  Mary went to France for a bit (which in those days was next-door to Scotland) to marry a prince, who died.  When she came back to Scotland it was no longer as Catholic as she was (for, having had Catherine de Medici as a mother-in-law, she was Catholic indeed).  Everything went pretty badly for her until she was locked up by the English for some reason (in the middle of Sheffield, though you wouldn't recognise it in those pre-tram days), and was beheaded for something like treason.  She and Elizabeth never met, except perhaps a little bit in this movie.  The fruit of her loins became king of both England and Scotland, uniting the island of Great Britain, so that's a sort-of happy ending for you.

Zarah Leander, Nazi Germany's great diva, plays Mary, and gets a number of sad-sounding songs, though their contents could be intensely jolly for all I know, as I was watching the film in German without subtitles, so had no idea what anybody was saying.  Nonetheless, Leander gives a pleasant performance, though some count it as her worst.  I've long been curious to see her in action as Maria and Pauline Simon in my beloved 'Heimat' (1984) go to see her in the 1938 film of the same name, and admire her greatly.

Sorry, German language, I've no idea what you're trying to tell me.
The whole film looks very fine, giving us a splendid, very clean picture of history.  Big Tudor costumes: doublets, kilts, ball-gowns and jerkins.  Plenty to envy, and want to wear.  We can tell it's set in England and Scotland, as there's Norman architecture and lots of capotains, a hat I very much enjoy.

I think I would have found the movie more enjoyable, not to mention more intelligible, had some subtitles been available to me.  It would probably make the film's anti-British bias more evident, which in pictures is only apparent in the chilly horridness of Königin Elizabeth's performance.  Who knows what allegations lie within the dialogue?

P.S. Because I only realised a year ago, I shall clarify: Mary Queen of Scots isn't the same person as 'Bloody' Mary, Queen of England, they merely shared a forename, a century and a lineage.  This all happened about 450 fears ago, shortly before Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Guy Fawkes, the revolution and the interregnum (in that order).

P.P.S. While watching the film, my chair broke and I fell over backwards.  It was hilarious.

Look, it's not out on video, but you can find the film on Youtube.  Or better, why not read Antonia Fraser's biography of Mary?  It's really good.  I only didn't finish it because I'm lazy.

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