Lady Jane (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

We give it two thumbs up, but with the caveat that it is a historical costume drama embellished with a manufactured love story - basically a historical romance novel brought to the screen. Therefore, women as a group are more likely to appreciate it than men. To put it succinctly, it is a chick-flick, but a very good chick-flick.

The Tudor dynasty of England had a brief but important hold on the English crown. The entire dynasty lasted only 118 years, 83 of which consisted of the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I. They were, of course, two of Britain's most influential monarchs. Henry was responsible for England being Protestant. Elizabeth was responsible for internal stability and the consolidation of England's power, because her reign marked the end of the religious wars and the establishment of a British naval supremacy which would last 300 years, enabling England to explore and colonize the world. The arts also flourished under Elizabeth, and the term "Elizabethan" will forever be a mental association with the great dramatists, Shakespeare and Marlowe, who held artistic sway over the age.

Of the remaining 35 years of Tudor rule, 24 were occupied by Hank Ocho's dad Henry VII, the man who ended the War of the Roses when he defeated Richard III's army at the battle of Bosworth Field. You know Richard's famous lament:  "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Richard's death removed the last of the most powerful Yorks and Lancasters, allowing the victorious Henry to marry Richard's niece and start his own dynasty.

If you're mathematically inclined, you realize that there are 11 years missing. This was a very ugly eleven year period, the time of religious strife between the reigns of Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth. Henry was succeeded at first by his son Edward, who was only nine years old and sickly. He died at the age of 15. Before his sister, Mary, could assume the throne, there was a very brief period, nine days to be exact, in which the ruler of England was Lady Jane Gray, a 15 year old girl who was actually born two days before Edward himself.  

Lady Jane's ascendancy was the result of some masterful scheming between her mother (a niece of Henry VIII), and the Duke of Northumberland (the most powerful man in England while the country had a boy-king). While the young King Edward was dying, Lady Jane was married - against her will - to the son of that same powerful duke. Northumberland then persuaded the dying King to declare that his successor would be cousin Jane instead of half-sister Mary. This scheme had two purposes. First, it was designed to keep England Protestant. (Mary was Catholic). Second, it would allow the two pairs of scheming parents to continue ruling the country with minor children in titular power, a situation which they had found quite appealing while Northumberland acted as the de facto regent in Edward's "reign."

Lady Jane and her fun-loving wastrel husband, Guildford, had no relationship at all, rarely saw each other, and had no interest in ruling. Lady Jane was a bookish intellectual who fought against her marriage, then against her ascendancy, but was overruled in both cases by strong-willed elders who employed severe beatings.

The plot almost worked, but the army supporting Lady Jane was defeated by the armies defending Mary, so Lady Jane was forced to renounce her throne, which she did willingly. Mary, knowing that her cousin was not a willing participant in the plot, intended to forgive and forget, and actually promised Jane complete amnesty. Unfortunately for Jane, Mary was in a very difficult position in some negotiations with her own supporters in England and Spain, and that situation was exacerbated when some Protestants led a revolt to reinstall Jane to the throne. Jane had nothing to do with that uprising, but her very presence in the country represented a rallying point for the Queen's enemies, so Mary finally rescinded her promise of clemency. Lady Jane and her husband were eventually beheaded after about a year of comfortable internment. According to the story, Lady Jane could have saved her life at the 11th hour simply by accepting the Catholic Church (thus removing her as a focal point for Protestant rebels), but she refused.

Mary herself ruled for only an unhappy five years, after which her half-sister became perhaps the greatest ruler in England's history.

The film is generally accurate in historical details except for one tiny bit of dramatic license about a coin with Lady Jane's head on it, and for one very major bit - the relationship of Lady Jane and her husband. In real life, they despised each other, were forced to consummate their marriage against their will a month after the wedding, and thereafter lived apart. When Jane accepted her crown, she steadfastly refused ever to allow her ne'er-do-well husband to be king. They did not see each other at all from the time Jane renounced her throne until the time they were beheaded. The queen gave Guildford permission to see Jane one last time before their beheadings, but she refused.

The authors of the script didn't like that version of the story, so they substituted a loving romance between the mismatched nobles. According to the revisionist tale, the scoundrel Guildford and the studious Jane were united in their love for the common people, and were both outraged by the inequities of class system in England. They eventually became close friends and true lovers, retired to a country estate where they lived together happily for a time, then counseled each other during the nine day reign, and even during their imprisonment. They were still making eyes at one another, with their shirts off, in front of a fire, just hours before their deaths.

Therefore, the film really focuses on the fictional romance, and uses the history only as a backdrop. If you watch it as a painless history lesson, just be aware that pretty much everything is true except the relationship of Jane and Guildford. The alteration of their relationship doesn't really conflict with the historical truth of the story except in one instance. In real life, as I mentioned above, Jane swore that her despised and infantile husband would never wear the title of king. (She was the one with a claim on the throne, not he.) She does that in the movie as well - except that it makes no sense in the film's version of the story, since the scriptwriter made Guildford her lover, best friend, soul-mate, confidante, and advisor. In that altered context, she would have been thrilled to rule side by side with him as king and queen if this account were true, so it was completely unbelievable when she so vigorously protested his coronation.

As a group, women really like this film. It is definitely a chick-flick of the first magnitude. Our broad indicator of a chick-flick is that the IMDb rating from women is at least one point higher than the men's rating. In this case, the difference is 1.5 (6.4 men, 7.9 women). That differential places it among the all-time estrogen films. Be that as it may, I liked the film. If you ignore the liberties the script takes with history and watch it as a filmed version of a historical romance novel, it isn't a great movie, but it is very good.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.85:1

  • B&W photo gallery



Helena Bonham Carter shows her breasts on two separate occasions.

Cary Elwes shows his buns in one of those scenes.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Lady Jane (1986) is a costumed biopic of Lady Jane Grey, who, in the fascinating battle between Catholics and Protestants that took place with the death of King Edward, was the reluctant queen of England for 9 days in 1552. This is a very accessible insight into 16th century English history, and is largely accurate. The story had everything, war, whipping, beheading, intrigue, philosophical disputes, etc.

This is a story of an absolutely fascinating period in English history, culminating with the reign of Elizabeth the 1st a few years after the portion of the tale in this film. If you are interested in 16th century English history, chances are you have seen this film. If not, this is a rather painless way to get a feel for the period. Watch the film, then refer to Scoop's review and the links he posted, and voila, painless history.

The film starts with a premise that Lady Jane should be the sympathetic character, possibly the only one, and then kills her off for something she was not responsible for in any way. While that happens to be true, it was not a very cinematic, so the script added the one ingredient history neglected to supply: a love story. While the real Lady Jane hated her husband and he never stopped being the jerk that was first shown in the film, much of the appeal of the film would have been lost without that change.

This has huge chick-flick appeal, likely because of the strong female characters, and the manufactured love story. In fact, it is a rather accessible historical drama, and is well made.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.9/10. That weighted score actually understates its true appeal to voters, because the mean score is 8.1, and the median is 8. Women score it far higher than men.
  • The studio virtually ignored it once it was completed. It grossed about a quarter of a million in minimal distribution.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C. It is a satisfactory romance against a satisfactory historical backdrop. It is 2:20 long, which tested my endurance. Women rate it a superior 8.1 at IMDb, although men find it mediocre." Tuna agrees with the C, commenting, "This has huge chick-flick appeal, likely because of the strong female characters, and the manufactured love story. In fact, it is a rather accessible historical drama, and is well made."

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