Magazine article The Spectator

Uphill Struggle

Magazine article The Spectator

Uphill Struggle

Article excerpt

I tried hard to love Elizabeth I (Channel 4, Thursday) because such work and effort had gone into it, but it was an uphill job.

The opening scene, of a doctor examining our heroine's vagina, was no doubt meant to be challenging and attention-grabbing, but it felt unnecessarily gynaecological. As Barry Humphries would have said, the doctor was just keeping his hand in.

The other problem is that we have seen so many depictions of these people and this era that they all echo round each other, with, for some reason, Blackadder the loudest.

The Duke of Anjou (Hugh Laurie with a comedy French accent): I muzz ask you ziss; are you minded to tek me as a 'usban', in all seriousness?

Or the Duke of Leicester (Rowan Atkinson, I expect): It would appear that the people have little stomach for this marriage.

Elizabeth: The Queen has little stomach for the people!

Why did I suddenly imagine her throwing up on her loyal subjects? It's an impossible task for writers: if you make your characters speak as they actually did at the time, nobody would understand them; if you update the dialogue in the manner of Andrew Davies ('Burleigh, I want you to roll out best practice in cross-cutting government -- and don't hang about!'), you're in danger of sounding silly.

I gather that no one would ever have been seated in the Queen's presence; they would have stood or knelt and not made eye contact. But Helen Mirren played her as a cross between Margaret Thatcher and the late Mo Mowlam, more informal than the first, scarier than the other. There was even an echo of Tony Blair in the line 'my Parliament seeks words with us, and I must pretend to listen'.

Helen Mirren is a wonderful actor, and the scene when she raged about the loss of Anjou was affecting. But the whole thing was awfully slow, and it must have cost a fortune. One wondered really what they thought they were doing. I suspect they made it because the budget was there, rather than the other way around.

Love Soup (BBC1, Tuesday) was written by David Renwick, who also gave us One Foot in the Grave and Jonathan Creek, two considerable achievements. It was full of shocks. I was reminded of the Monty Python chocolates, including Crunchy Frog and Spring Surprise: pop the smooth chocolate shell into your mouth, and steel bolts spring out, piercing both cheeks!

At first it seemed to be just another amiable romcom in which, after amusing misadventures, glamorous yet vulnerable young professionals find love with each other. …

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