It tells the story of Lady Jane Grey (1537 - 1554), the Nine Days' Queen, on her reign and romance with husband Guilford Dudley. The film features several members of The Royal Shakespeare Company. It is mainly remembered as Helena Bonham Carter's first major film role.
The death of King Henry VIII throws his kingdom into chaos as his heir, Edward VI is not only under-age, but dying. Anticipating the young king's imminent death from consumption and anxious to keep England true to the Reformation by keeping the Catholic Mary from the throne, John Dudley, Lord President of the Council, second only to the king in power, marries his son Guilford to Lady Jane Grey and has the royal physician—by treating him with arsenic—keep the young king alive (though in excruciating pain) long enough to get him to name Lady Jane his heir.
Jane is not happy with the proposed marriage, and must be forced into it by her bullying parents. At first Jane and Guilford decide to treat this purely as a marriage of convenience, but then they fall deeply in love. Jane is placed on the throne after Edward dies. She is troubled by the questionable legality of her accession; but, in consultation with Guilford, she turns the tables on John Dudley and the others who had thought to manipulate her like a puppet.
After only nine days, however, Queen Jane is abandoned by her council precisely because of her reformist designs for the country. The council, then, goes over to Mary I of England, who at first imprisons Jane and Guilford. After Jane's father, the Duke of Suffolk, raises a rebellion to restore her to the throne—presumably in concert with Thomas Wyatt's rebellion, Mary finally has Jane, Jane's father, and Guilford executed.
The birching scene
It is 1553. 15-year-old Jane (a greatniece of Henry VIII of England, played by Helena Bonham Carter who was 18 when the movie was shot) is told by her parents that she will get married to Guilford Dudley (who is the same age as her), the son of the newly powerful Duke of Northumberland. She strongly opposes that idea and tells the Duke and her parents that she does not wish to marry anyone at present.
Her mother is determined to break the girl's will and asks Jane's governess to take Jane "to the gallery". Jane's strong reaction when she hears this suggests that she knows that this means corporal punishment. She tries to flee, but is overpowered and brought to the gallery as ordered, where she is held by two people in the center of the room to await her doom. A backless wooden chair is placed in front of her. Her mother enters accompanied by a maid who hands her a birch rod. Looking at Jane, she says "Well... so be it."
With a nod of her head, she motions the males in the room to leave - the females remain and witness the scene. Jane no longer tries to escape; knowing what she is expected to do she kneels in front of the chair and bends over it. Two servants raise her skirts (the camera angle is chosen to not show her buttocks, but the viewer can assume they are bared for the birch). Her mother steps to her side, rises the birch and brings it down sharply on the girl. Jane is visibly and audibly in great pain.
After the birching is over, Jane lies exhausted on the floor, unable to rise. Her mother says "Well?" As she gets no immediate reply, she grabs Jane's face to make her look at her, and asks once more: "Well?" Jane replies, with difficulty, "Just - don't - see - why." Her mother replies she will make her "see", takes off her jacket, and takes the birch once more while Jane is repositioned over the chair and her skirts are raised again. Her chastisement is continued. Meanwhile the Duke of Northumberland leaves and summons the King to speak with Jane and make her see the logic of the marriage.
Finally we see Jane, crying and broken, on the floor in the gallery, her mother comes in and states " You will not marry Guilford Dudley? What are you without your family? Nothing! Nobody! What makes you think you can dare to choose whom to obey?". Suddenly the door to the gallery opens and Jane's father comes in and announces that their daughter has a visiter and King Edward VI steps in to the room much to the shock of Jane's mother who drops in to a deep curtsey. He demands to speak with his cousin "Alone!" Jane's mother nods at her daughter for the servents to help Jane and remove the chair. Jane tries to get but the King tells her not to and puts her head in his lap. He tells her that he was never whipped; his parents had a whipping boy and if he did something bad that boy was whipped in his place. "See? You should've been born into the throne." At this, through her tears, Jane has to chuckle.
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