Elizabeth R Reviews
I have often said that the problem with presenting the life of Queen Elizabeth I is that people always want to do all of it, and the notable bits of her life span about fifty years or more. (I'd argue more; I don't think there was ever a time when she wasn't notable.) No one ever wants to hire more than one actress, so you get quite a lot in the way of makeup or else middle-aged to elderly women playing a teenager to twenty-something. Those are really your only options, almost; only [i]Elizabeth[/i] and [i]Elizabeth: The Golden Age[/i] seemed able to take a brief segment of the woman's life and worry about the rest of it another time. What I find curious about this particular attempt at her life is that the part we skip so utterly that I thought Netflix was playing the segments out of order is the part of her life where she was the age the actress, Glenda Jackson, was at the time.
We start with the reign of her younger brother, Edward VI (Jason Kemp), and specifically with the attempt of the boy king's uncle, Thomas Seymour (John Ronane), to abduct him and take control of England for himself. We see Elizabeth maneuver her way through her brother's death, through the nine-days' reign of her cousin (Sarah Frampton), through the reign of her sister Mary (Daphne Slater), and through to her own coronation. She insists that she is married to England, but it is not quite enough for her courtiers. She dances her way through the marriage game. She outmaneuvers her other cousin, Mary Stuart (Vivian Pickles), and loses the fight to keep Mary from the gallows. She sends her navy against her brother-in-law Philip (Peter Jeffrey) and his armada. And she holds her own against yet another cousin, the Earl of Essex (Robin Ellis). Because this is a BBC series from 1971, we mostly see the events in her life that can be presented in quite a small room with not too many extras.
The history is very good, perhaps the best of any fictionalized version I've ever seen of Elizabeth's life. It makes quite clear, for example, what the odds are that she might ever have had any kind of affair with her beloved Robin Dudley (Robert Hardy)--because they are observed almost the entire time. We touch a little bit on her desperate fear of marriage--and the problems with the negotiation of her possible marriage to the Duc d'Alencon (Michael Williams). Since we do not see the unfortunate marriages of her cousin Mary--it's in the bits we skip--we do not see her anguish when Mary has a son. However, it does yet acknowledge that her fear of marriage does not eliminate her want of a child. There are some people who might have a problem with the fact that they don't show much in the way of the women of her court, but it is true that the women of her court were never allowed to have any real influence. Elizabeth was not, after all, a feminist. It was one thing if you were born a queen. If you weren't, you were meant to be ruled.
This is six episodes of approximately ninety minutes each. And there are a few places where I don't really think we need everything which appears. Yes, it's certainly true that the plays of Shakespeare had a much greater influence on then-current events than most people know; Elizabeth was not unaware of the ways the past could be meant to represent what people thought should be happening in the present. However, we get perhaps five solid minutes of [i]Richard II[/i], which is not one of Shakespeare's strongest plays. Yes, it had an important role in the final events in the life of Essex, but that doesn't mean it's necessary here. A lot of the story feels as though, in a desperate attempt to get in the things that aren't normally shown, they got in things that aren't always interesting. I also felt that there wasn't quite enough set-up as to who some of the people were. Not even Robin Dudley really gets a back story, much less William Cecil (Ronald Hines).
Oh, Elizabeth is a deeply sympathetic character here as always. There's a reason she's my favourite British monarch; after all, her response to her irritation at the Puritans was to sponsor theatre. She was more interested in religious freedom than any monarch for centuries, not least because her own position was made so uncertain because of what various people believed. Whether she was legitimate or not depended on how you chose to worship God--and everyone admitted that it was the same God, so was it really that big a deal? (There is some speculation that she was the next thing to atheist; after the childhood she had, I rather don't blame her if she was.) She wasn't allowed to be who she was capable of being, because she was a woman. Even her own theoretical supporters wanted her to get on with it and marry a man who would be better suited to rule--and if she had children, everyone wanted them to be boys. She was a great woman in an age that didn't allow for them.