Byline: DANAE BROOK
THE two bodies are naked, intertwined. Young lovers in the heat of passion, cocooned in the intimacy of a huge double bed from which curtains cascade.
It's the sort of scene that is only too familiar in Hollywood and at first glance it would be no more shocking than most.
But what is truly startling is that the woman on screen is Elizabeth I, the 'Virgin Queen'. The sex scenes form a key part of a controversial film, Elizabeth, produced by Working Title, the makers of Four Weddings And A Funeral.
The new film rejects the established view that the Queen remained a virgin throughout her life.
Instead she is portrayed as a woman who had a torrid, sexual affair with Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, but later coldly invented the myth of herself as a chaste monarch after her romance with him had died.
The interpretation will stun audiences and has already attracted criticism from historians.
But director Shekhar Kapur who has never before worked in this country or made a film which was not in the Indian language - defended his interpretation of Elizabeth's life at the premiere of the film last week at the Venice Film Festival.
Kapur, director of The Bandit Queen, once banned by the Indian government for its brutally sadistic scenes, said: 'Historical facts are only a constraint if you stick to them. If you are saying I have to tell history absolutely correctly, then I can't make an emotional movie.
You have to have the courage to interpret. I don't mind turning history on its head, if that's what people think I'm doing. Why not take another look at the facts?
'In this day and age, we're modern people, our education says we must question everything, yet we never question the fact that here was a woman, who lived 400 years ago, with four very strong, very well-documented relationships, who was said to be a virgin. Why? We came up with the idea that her virginity was a political statement, and not a physical fact.' But historians do not agree.
Although there is little doubt Dudley was the love of Elizabeth's life, few think the relationship was consummated. Historian Alison Weir, who has just published a book about Elizabeth and her courtiers, thinks Kapur has taken 'a lot of liberties with the truth' and dismisses some of his claims as 'nonsense'.
In the film, Elizabeth, played powerfully by ravishing Australian newcomer Cate Blanchett, has a full The Virgin Queen is seen as wanton seducer and heretic (she, as a Protestant, was taking over a Catholic country and faced enormous opposition from the Pope, who excommunicated her, calling her 'heretic and whore' as she herself spits out in one scene).
In the opening shots, Dudley (played by Joseph Fiennes) and Elizabeth are dancing and flirting in the fields outside Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, where Elizabeth's half-sister Queen Mary (played as an embittered, cancer-ridden fiend by Kathy Burke) exiles her from court. Elizabeth's coterie of friends and ladies-in-waiting, and the cinema audience, are left in no doubt they are lovers, or about to become so.
Within the first half hour of the film, once Mary has died of the tumour she hoped was a pregnancy and Elizabeth has acceded to the throne, the new Queen is taking Dudley to her bed.
On the night of her coronation (in 1559), she brazenly picks him out to dance with her, causing ripples of excitement when he publicly proclaims their intimacy, by whispering in her ear, holding her tightly against him.
She responds ardently, their language - and body language - unmistakably that of lovers.
AFTER the banquet, Elizabeth retires to her bedroom to await Dudley. Her ladies-in-waiting giggle conspiratorially as he approaches. The traditional silken bed drapes are …