Archive for November 10, 2021


History vs. Fiction

After reading about and watching The Princess Bride last week, I followed it up by watching Lady Jane. Cary Elwes mentions that movie a couple of times in his book about The Princess Bride. That was the role that got him noticed so that he was cast in The Princess Bride, and it was filmed at one of the locations that was also used in The Princess Bride. It’s been sitting on my watchlist for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because the previous time I saw part of it, it was a painful experience.

Back when the History Channel had actual history-related content, they used to have a program called something like Movies in History, in which they’d show a film based on a historical person or event, then have historians talk about the actual history, comparing it to what was depicted in the movie. I loved this because I often would look up the real history after seeing a movie, and this was in the early 90s, before Google and Wikipedia, so looking up the real history required going to the library and looking in the encyclopedia or finding a book, and that was before my neighborhood had a library branch, so I had to drive downtown. When I was in college, I’d even look up the microfilm for newspapers at the time of the event (it was convenient living across the street from the main research library) so I could see how the event was covered in the news at that time. Seeing movies through this program saved me the trip to the library (unless I was still curious enough to want to read a whole book on the subject, but it at least dealt with the immediate curiosity so it could wait until my next trip to the library).

Lady Jane came on this program during the early 90s when I still only knew Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride and Helena Bonham Carter from A Room with a View. I was familiar with the history in general, so I knew about (spoiler!) the royal cousin who was made queen very briefly before Mary took the throne and had her executed, but I didn’t know a lot of details. I’d heard of the movie but hadn’t seen it and stumbled upon it partway through while channel surfing. The movie plays out like a tragic romance, with the couple in a marriage arranged by their parents, hating each other at first and then falling madly in love, then having a brief moment of hope that they could do great things leading the kingdom before their tragic end. Lady Jane was depicted as serious and scholarly, and we had her and a slightly younger version of Westley bonding over intellectual discussions of religious doctrine, so this movie was totally my jam. When the movie ends with the idea that they may have been executed, but they were going to be together in heaven, I was sobbing. It was a great romantic tearjerker.

And then the historian came on and ruined everything by talking about how it was all false. They hated each other, never fell in love, never really spent any time together. She even refused to see him before their execution. They also wouldn’t have had any impulse for reform while she was queen, since that wasn’t a way people would have even thought at that time. It ruined the movie because it was such a disappointment. I’ve since found other information that while it is true that they didn’t spend any time together and probably were not in love, her reason for refusing to see him before the execution was that she thought there was no point since they were about to be reunited in heaven. Also, the word “Jane” was carved into the cell of the Tower where he was kept before his execution. So, maybe not a love story, but it’s possible that if they hadn’t been executed so young they might have worked out. It is true that she was very studious and was considered one of the most highly educated women of her time.

I didn’t get nearly as weepy on this viewing, and I watched it with the idea that it was basically a historical romance using characters and situations that existed. It also helps to imagine the novel My Lady Jane, which puts a fantasy twist on the story and gives it a happy ending. It’s amusing seeing such a young Helena Bonham Carter, long before she went into Tim Burton mode. The costuming and scenery are lovely, and I had fun playing “name the location.” There are a few scenes set in the same courtyard where Princess Buttercup is introduced to the people, and there’s an exterior set at a castle I’ve visited but that doesn’t actually play a role in this story. They’re pretending that part of that castle is also part of that other manor house, even though they’re in different parts of the country. Aside from the two young leads, most of the cast were from the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Patrick Stewart (pre Star Trek) as Lady Jane’s father, so it’s very well-acted.

If you like costume dramas and tragic romance, this one can be entertaining. Just ignore the history.