Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen (2005)

Article excerpt

ELIZABETH I: THE VIRGIN QUEEN (2005)

Masterpiece Theatre

As a sumptuous, well-produced costume drama, Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen carries on the proud tradition of depicting the life and events of Queen Elizabeth I of England. What sets this film apart from the other Elizabeth portrayals in the last decade is the scope of the telling; rather than brief glimpses into her reign, the viewer is presented with a panoply from the treacherous period immediately preceding her ascendancy to the throne until her last breath.

The constant struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism plays like background music through the entire film, prominent and muted by turns. Religion was the means for gaining and retaining power, and Mary Tudor' s (Joanna Whalley) popish affiliation certainly endowed her with the means of holding power in an increasing polarized political landscape. However, the Protestant leanings of her half-sister, Elizabeth (AnneMarie Duff), garnered support among Mary's detractors and gave Elizabeth ample cause to fear for her life. It was only with Mary Tudor' s death that the Protestant movement could re-assert itself without fear of execution and it did so, fiercely, with Elizabeth's coronation. The irony of Elizabeth's imprisonment and eventual execution of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is certainly not lost on either the viewer or Elizabeth herself. Guilt and religious conflict appear to be standard issue with the Tudor crown, as Elizabeth was plagued by her conscience after the issuance of Mary Stuart's death warrant and her own bitter half-sister, Mary Tudor, is portrayed as having a crisis of conscience as she considered executing Elizabeth.

While religion and politics certainly played a significant role in Elizabeth's reign, her life could easily be described as revolving around three men: William Cecil (Ian Hart), her advisor and mainstay; Robert Dudley (Tom Hardy), a childhood friend and object of her affections; and Robert Devereux (Hans Matheson), Dudley's step-son and Elizabeth's eventual betrayer. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, provided a foundation upon which Elizabeth built her reign. As the head of the Privy Council and as Elizabeth's personal advisor, Burghley's strong and stable influence was a bastion in a court full of intrigue and in-fighting. Elizabeth tells him as much later in his life, as he contemplates retirement and she urges him to remain at court. Following Cecil's major stroke, Elizabeth tenderly informed him that he was her "alpha and omega" and could not possibly die. However, their relationship was not without conflict and never more so than in matters of love and marriage. …