Wednesday, May 4, 2011
MM Movie Review: Elizabeth
The story is certainly an attractive one. It follows the young Elizabeth, starting in the final days of the reign of her sister Queen Mary I (who, as usual, is ugly and villainous less modern Brits fail to recognize her), following her through her own reign as she faces constant harassment from Scotland, France, Spain and even the dastardly Pope while dealing with a stressful romance with the Earl of Leicester. The problem is certainly not in the acting, which is superb. The cast contains some of the best in the business, masters of their craft and even a living legend or two. The characters are interesting, deep and well done in every way aside from the occasional cartoonish villain but these are pretty much restricted to Catholic clergy so everyone else, hero or villain, is in pretty good shape.
Catte Blanchett is Queen Elizabeth I, the young innocent who must overcome and find her inner strength; Geoffrey Rush is Sir Francis Walsingham, the unscrupulous, loyal, bisexual spymaster and secret police chief; Christopher Eccleston is the imperious, duplicitous and finally traitorous Duke of Norfolk; Joseph Fiennes is the tempestuous, lusty and frustrated Earl of Leicester, Sir John Gielgud appears as the murderous Pope (Pius V, I presume) and Lord Richard Attenborough is the faithful, fatherly and stressed Sir William Cecil. So, again, it is a superb cast and they have a truly epic period of history to work with, tailor-made for great filmmaking. As a film, it is lavish, dramatic, gripping, visually stunning and immensely entertaining. As anything even pretending to be history it is absolutely insulting to the name.
I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the opening scene: the wicked Catholic Bishop Gardiner having some saintly Protestants burned alive for heresy on order from "Bloody Mary", who is herself depicted as a vile, raving tyrant. In fact, the records show Mary I was the least of all her dynasty in having people executed. Moreover, Bishop Gardiner had no one in his own diocese executed, had opposed the Queen marrying Philip II of Spain and was generally considered a moderate. However, the historical lies in this movie are far too many to record every one. The Earl of Leicester is shown frolicking with Elizabeth at the start when he should have still been in the Tower for treason. The Duke of Norfolk is shown as one of Elizabeth's earliest enemies in a Catholic conspiracy, which he was not. His anti-Elizabeth actions came much later in the plot surrounding Queen Mary Stuart, and he was always vague about his religion but never declared himself to be anything other than an Anglican. In fact, he is shown urging Queen Mary to have her sister killed to keep her off the throne when, in truth, Mary was not thrilled with the thought of this herself and was persuaded to allow Elizabeth's succession only by her husband, King Philip II of Spain (who, again, is portrayed as a horrible villain so as not to confuse the Brits).
Keep up, there’s more. William Cecil is portrayed as an elderly and ready to retire statesman when in fact he was a robust, young man when Elizabeth came to the throne. Sir Francis Walsingham is depicted as a scheming, murderous homosexual whereas, while certainly scheming, he never killed anyone himself and was a happily married family man and a devout Protestant - certainly not a homosexual. The Duc d'Anjou is shown as a bizarre, cross-dressing pervert whom Elizabeth finds abhorrent, yet another fabrication. In fact, the Duc d'Anjou never came to England and the Queen was quite taken with him and considered him very seriously to be her husband or at least pretended so to annoy the Spanish. There is also at least a possibility that the romance with Lord Robert, Earl of Leicester was never sexual, and Elizabeth may well have been a 'real' "Virgin Queen". I tend to doubt it and in these day and age it seems positively unbelievable but, in fairness, I have to say that a case can be made for the Queen being as good as her title.
Leicester was also certainly not involved with any kind of plot against the Queen, nor was there a great falling out between the two, and contrary to the film, his marriage was a well known fact at court and Elizabeth met with him many, many times before her death. (let me catch my breath) It is also untrue that Leicester ever had affairs with the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, whom she kept a close eye on and no one ever sent the Queen a poisoned dress. The plot at the center of this film also never happened in anything like the way it was portrayed. It seems the filmmakers simply took all of the schemes against Elizabeth, invented some intrigue of their own, and put them all together, stuffed them in a blender and hit “mix”. Much of it seems to be connected to the historical trap set for Queen Mary Stuart, yet, she is never seen or mentioned in the film.
However, the film as a whole, as good as the look of it was, that look was totally inaccurate. Most of the sets look like they should be in a movie about the Middle Ages rather than Renaissance, Tudor England. The palaces all seem dark, dank, dreary (insert dungeon-like metaphor here). That may do for scenes in the Tower of London, but the court of Queen Elizabeth lived in much more splendid and cheerful mansions and palaces. The dingy, Gothic sets have about as much to do with Elizabethan England as the assassination attempt on the river barge (yet another fabrication).
Believe it or not, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Still, I cannot overstate how much talent was shown in this movie, and how entertaining it was. Yet, as excellent as it was in the art of cinema it was absolutely horrific in the history department and paints a distorted view of the Tudor era and Queen Elizabeth. It opened with a lie and, fittingly enough, ended with one as well: although it is a powerful scene, Elizabeth did not start wearing white makeup and portraying herself as the statue-like "Virgin Queen" until well into the latter part of her reign. Oh, the humanity...