Lady Jane Grey 4: Book & Movie Reviews

In a previous post about Lady Jane Grey, I’ve mentioned about ‘Innocent Traitor’ and ‘Lady Jane’, a book and a movie based on Lady Jane’s life. In this post I will do a brief review of both.

Book Title: Innocent Traitor
Author: Alison Weir

Review: I especially enjoyed reading ‘Innocent Traitor’. It describes the life of Lady Jane Grey in detail, and gives the readers an insight of her life. As Alison Weir is a well-known historian who has done much research, it can be assured that the details in this book are historically accurate. Well, most of it, anyway.

The plot is just as described in many popular accounts of Jane’s life—her birth, the disappointment of her parents that she is not a boy, her strict upbringing and education, her love for learning, her forced marriage with Guilford Dudley, her proclamation as queen, and eventually, her downfall and death. Yet, what makes it interesting are the little details and descriptions added into the story. Life is breathed into the character of Jane—a girl with a strong passion for loving, who fears her parents and detests her husband, who is zealous in matters of religion and who is courageous in the face of death.

It is the story of Jane as we know it, and her parents are described as ruthlessly ambitious, her mother even more so. Since her birth, it had been hoped that she may marry Prince Edward and be crowned Queen of England. It was that hoped which lifted Frances Brandon out of her disappointment of not bearing any sons, and it marked the start of Jane’s strict upbringing. Hoping to make her daughter the ideal royal bride, Frances is stern about Jane’s education, her conduct and manners, and her dressing. Jane, on the other hand, prefers to dress modestly as befits a Protestant maiden. In the end, her mother learns to love Jane, but it is too late as Jane has already been sentenced to death.

The relationship between Jane and the Lady Mary is also described vividly. Both cannot tolerate each other’s religions, and Jane is horrified at the idols and all the trappings of papary in Mary’s grand house. Mary, on the other hand, tries to warm up to Jane by giving her luxurious gifts, including a rich court gown of scarlet velvet, embroidered with gold and seed pearls, thinking that the girl would be glad at such a gift. Instead, Lady Jane recoils in horror as she refuses to follow the example of Lady Mary whom she views as an extravagant Catholic. However, she does accept Mary’s gift of a necklace of rubies with gratitude, but when she puts in on before the mirror, she has a vivid image of gouts of blood around her neck. This foreshadows her eventual fate of beheading in Mary’s hands.

Jane’s relationship with her husband is distant and unpleasant; he being a shallow, crude and childish youth who mistreats her and makes her life miserable. When she refused to let him be King, he threw a tantrum and went off crying to his mother. However, after his imprisonment, Jane’s heart softens a bit and realizes that despite all his bad points, he has some good in him. She refuses to see him on the last night before the execution, but watches by her window and sends him off as he walks towards his execution site.

Overall, this is a good read, although certain expressions struck me as rather modern. It seemed like what we would use in the 21st century, and not really what people living in Tudor England would think or say. It was a little disconcerting at first and it almost put me off from enjoying the book. Another thing that several other reviewers pointed out is the switching of viewpoints. It’s not a bad thing, really, and Philippa Gregory employed this in her book ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’. However, the voices of the different narrators sound almost the same—I remember randomly flipping open a page and reading, thinking that it was Lady Jane narrating, only to realize that the narrator was her father-in-law instead! Surely the voice of a young girl and a hardened courtier would be very much different. But if everything were to be written in a third-person point of view, we will not be able to experience Jane’s feelings about her execution so vividly.

Movie title: Lady Jane
Year of Production: 1986

This movie has Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Jane Grey, and Cary Elwes as Guilford Dudley.
I have only watched the second half of the movie on Youtube. Nevertheless, it left a lasting impression in my mind. I loved the way Bonham Carter portrayed Lady Jane. Her acting skills are very convincing—from the ice maiden who shuns Guilford and sticks to her books, to a cheerful young girl madly in love with her husband. And Cary Elwes is sooo…hot. In that movie, I mean.

Now, on the plot—overall, this movie is historically inaccurate. Jane was very much in love with her husband, and together they work on social reform, after meeting a group of poor peasants who had lost their lands. When Jane was made queen, she ordered the commission of new shillings that was worth its value, ordered the return of the lands to the peasants, distributed her finest clothes and linens to the poor, and also planned the building of schools to educate the children of the poor. (If I didn’t remember the movie wrongly) Now, that was really compassionate of her, but sadly that wasn’t what happened in history. That type of social thinking was not typical of the Tudor era. But the movie leaves us with questions of ‘what ifs’. What if it had been true? What if Jane had reigned instead of Mary? What if her husband did love and support her, the way he did in the movie?

There are certain parts which are really memorable. Firstly is the part where Jane is proclaimed as queen. The ominous silence of the great hall, the intimidating crowds of lords and ladies all clad in black, the loud echo of footsteps as Jane is being led to the throne…that was a scene well executed, and we can smell Jane’s fear and reluctance in accepting the crown.

Next, is the part where she and her husband spent their last night together, repeating their vows of ‘we will fly, out of their reach’. As the guards came to take Guilford away, back to his cell, they gaze at each other for the last time, and Jane says, “Next time I see your face, I want it for……eternity.” She looks away, and Guilford continues to gaze at her, his eyes filled with tears, a smile on his lips. He turns and walks out of her cell, a resigned expression on his face.

The third memorable scene is historically accurate. Jane is blindfolded, and kneeling before the block, she reaches out but fails to take hold of it. “Where is it?” She asks, her voice forcefully calm. “W-Where is it?” she asks again, her voice faltering. She starts gasping in fear, her hands groping helplessly. “What do I do?” it comes out almost like a sob, until the kind priest steps forward and helps her to it. She lays her chin on the hollow and the executioner grabs his axe. (Now this part onwards is not accurate) The executioner presses his axe on the back of her neck, (this scene gives me chills—imagine the cold blade pressing against your neck!) she whispers, “Guilford” (in reality she said, “Lord, into thy hands I command my spirit”), the executioner raises his axe and it comes down with a sickening chop.

In the very last scene, Dr. Feckenham is shown gazing at a flock of birds in the sky, and he says softly, "The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible. At there arriving, she is assured of bliss, and forever dwells in paradise." The first time I watched this scene, tears welled up in my eyes. Even now this scene still gives me goosebumps.
To wrap it up, this is a nice movie. Certain artistic liberties have been taken, but I guess that is permissible, since it is a movie and not a documentary.


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