When you ask kinky people about their favourite CP scenes from the movies, Lady Jane is mentioned frequently. It's a serious, somewhat staid British costume drama released in 1986 and largely forgotten by the mainstream audience today. But spankophiles still remember it fondly because of That Birching Scene featuring a young Helena Bonham Carter in one of her first roles (she was 18 at the time of filming).
Most of you have undoubtedly seen it already, so the attached video clip won't be new to you. Even so, I wanted to pay homage to "Lady Jane" on the blog sometime. It's a great little scene in a good and arguably underrated film. I recall renting it on VHS some ten years ago, around the time when I got my first internet connection. "Lady Jane" was among the first titles I specifically sought out after hearing about them on one of those useful "spanking in the movies" lists. My local video store only had the German-dubbed version and it wasn't until later that I saw the English original. But the birching scene was exciting nonetheless and didn't disappoint...
The movie chronicles the short life of Lady Jane Grey, who was the nominal Queen of England for nine days in 1553. It was a time of fierce struggle between Protestants and Catholics. Young King Edward VI was dying (probably of tuberculosis) and his half-sister Mary, a staunch Catholic, was next in line for the throne. This threatened not only the English Reformation as a whole, but especially the King's advisors and officers - Protestants who enjoyed very powerful and financially lucrative positions. Lead by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, they persuaded Edward to change the succession, passing over the princesses Mary and Elizabeth in favour of his cousin Jane. The ill-conceived plot failed, however. Jane and her supporters were quickly overthrown and "Bloody Mary" won the day. She was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1554.
"Lady Jane" portrays the Nine Days' Queen as a tragic heroine, a youthful idealist and zealous reformer, and finally as a religious martyr who chooses death instead of renouncing her Protestant faith. The film also focuses a great deal on the romance with her arranged husband Guilford, the son of John Dudley. Sadly perhaps, this is the biggest historical inaccuracy - by all accounts, the real Jane and Guilford never got on well. In the movie, they start out with a deep disdain for each other and for their forced marriage, but they eventually fall in love. I actually liked the fictional love story. It's anachronistic and follows the typical "mismatched romance" film formula, contrasting a studious and bookish Jane with her fun-loving, but sensitive husband. But I admit to having a soft spot for that kind of thing. Kitschy love stories are one of my guilty pleasures. Especially when they involve corporal punishment.
Speaking of which, let's get to the birching scene. It takes place towards the beginning of the story, when Jane's parents inform her that she is to be married to Guilford Dudley. The headstrong young lady promptly refuses and has to be persuaded with a taste of the rod. This is apparently historically accurate. Jane had an unhappy relationship with her parents, who enforced a strict disciplinary regime, and there are sources which claim that she was literally beaten into consenting to the marriage. What sounds horrible today would have been viewed as acceptable at the time - Jane was a young noblewoman expected to obey her parents' will, if need be through the use of force.
The depiction in the movie is certainly not among the longest or most graphic CP scenes ever filmed. There is no nudity and we don't see any strokes landing, just facial reactions. Instead, the scene gets its intensity purely from the character interaction and the dramatic staging - the elaborate punishment ritual, the whipping bench, the male servants leaving the room, and so forth. I like the ominous first look at the birch, the slow and graceful movement as it comes into the camera's view. And Helena Bonham Carter feigns some fairly good reactions to the beating.
Moreover, I empathise with Lady Jane's character, her scholarly devotion, her love of learning. This aspect is accurate as well. While Jane Grey wasn't the progressive social reformer portrayed in the film, it is generally agreed on that she was one of the most learned women of her time, with a comprehensive education in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and contemporary languages. She was also of royal blood, not some peasant girl getting whacked for stealing bread. Jane's fine mind and noble status make her chastisement all the more interesting for me. While the scholar in me identifies with her and roots for her, my inner sadist delights in her ordeal.
The aftermath is great, too, with boy-king Henry dashing in to end his cousin's torment. Another totally fictional event, of course, but adding a nice touch of damsel in distress. An exquisite scene as he finds poor Jane in a tearful heap on the floor and comforts her. I found the story he tells her quite intriguing - how he as the king couldn't be subject to corporal punishment and how a servant was whipped in his place to pay for his transgressions. That kind of "sacrificial lamb" concept is right down my alley, I'm fascinated by the psychology of it.
In summary, I recommend that you go out and rent "Lady Jane". Not only does it contain one of the all-time great CP scenes from the movies, it is a pretty decent film from start to finish. Some viewers might find it a bit overlong and talky, but history buffs like me will love it. Helena Bonham Carter gives a magnificent performance in the title role and has good on-screen chemistry with Cary Elwes, who plays Guilford Dudley. The supporting cast features several actors from The Royal Shakespeare Company, including John Wood as the Duke of Northumberland and an already bald Patrick Stewart as Jane's father.