Mary Queen of Scots on Screen: Historical Accuracy Versus Artistic Licence


Day course

Joanna Cobb

6 March 2021


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This course will ask questions about historical accuracy in film, literature and popular culture as a whole, with particular reference to Mary’s own life and how it has been depicted in the many film versions, as well as in drama and opera. In order to provide a better understanding of her life and times in context, a review of the Stuart dynasty as a whole will also feature, with particular emphasis on her dual Scottish/French background.

We will compare ways in which the two queens presented themselves through portraiture, and through original written sources consider the relationship between them. This course will begin by placing this celebrated, ill-fated queen within the broader historical context of the Stuart dynasty as a whole.

Making extensive use of primary sources, both visual and written, we will follow her life from birth to tragic end, asking questions along the way about historical accuracy in the various film versions of her life, including the most recent, with particular reference to the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. We will also look at the locations in film and reality. A screening of ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (2018, cert. 15) follows in the afternoon.

Tutor information

Joanna is an independent art historian, researcher, lecturer, and retired history teacher with over 20 years’ experience up to A level and Oxbridge entrance. She holds a B.Ed. degree and an MA in History of Art with Distinction from Birkbeck, University of London, which included modules on the Northern and Venetian Renaissance, and 18th century British art. Subsequent research towards a PhD has centred on the 18th century London art world. Her article, ‘From Parrots to Princes: Exhibitions of Contemporary Stained Glass in Late Eighteenth-century London’. appeared in the online journal Vidimus, Issue 53, July/August 2011. In keeping with her support for lifelong learning in its fullest sense, she presents her independent series of art history lectures across a range of venues in Somerset and has also taught U3A groups in Glastonbury and Wells, as well lectured sixth formers, parents and teachers at Wells Cathedral School. Future projects include short courses for several branches of the WEA, a special presentation for the Western Front Association to coincide with commemorations of the Armistice in 1918, additional lectures at Wells Cathedral School and a collaboration with Wells Film Centre. Her art historical interests include patronage, display, spectatorship, the changing status of art and artists, and the roles and achievement of women as artists. Central to her approach is an understanding of the context in which works of art were produced and experienced, in order to allow the ‘bigger picture’ surrounding them to emerge and in so doing enrich and enlarge the encounter.

Covid information

Dillington House wishes to reassure everyone that we are working closely with Somerset County Council to ensure every measure is being taken to make Dillington House a safe place for everyone.

All course participants will be sent further guidance prior to the course date.

Dillington House is following Government guidelines and adhering to new guidance including local or national lockdowns.

All places booked can be transferred or refunded in the event this course is cancelled. Individuals who are affected by local lockdowns will be able to transfer to an alternative course. All other terms and conditions apply.