I watched a disappointing production of the Queen Elizabeth I story on HBO last night. Of course these productions always tell us more about the lens in which moderns view the world than about how the Elizabethans themselves did, and this was no exception. They don't even try anymore to make historical dramas that would give one a real feel for the time and the pressures contained within it.
When Elizabeth (played ably by Helen Mirren) vacillates and despairs over the death of Mary, it seems like a ridiculous and selfish gesture after we were treated to scenes of Elizabeth cutting off the hand of an unfavorable pamphleteer and screeching for the disembowelment of seditious Catholics (which we got to see in all its gory technicolor detail)...oh and did I mention torture on the rack for a would-be assassin? We were given nothing to make us understand the concept of the divinity contained within monarchy. Elizabeth is just another weak and flighty woman constantly bordering on confusion and hysteria by turns.
It seems to me the status of women in the western world been in decline lately and this production reveals this most markedly. Elizabeth is propped up (literally in most scenes) by the trusty Earl of Leichester (played wonderfully by Jeremy Irons). Especially ludicrous was the scene of Elizabeth's great speech before the coming of the Spanish Armada. In HBO land, Elizabeth is just Oprah Winfrey in funny clothes. She cannot simply stand before the soldiers and deliver her speech, she must walk among them like Elizabeth Dole. But the real kicker, came as Elizabeth and the Earl are walking toward the stage and she turns to him, "what shall I say?" and he gives her the famous line, "you have the heart and stomach of a king." And then the whole speech comes off like an off the cuff remark.
Elizabeth the hypocritical populist.
Part II, of which I have only seen the previews seems to dwell on her interest in the (much, much, much younger) Earl of Essex, to whom Elizabeth was "given" by the Earl of Leichester on his death bed. "Take care of her, she needs caring after" or some such nonsense.
Give me Bette Davis!!!
The Glenda Jackson version is probably my favourite. Flora Robson gets forgotten these days in Fire over England, The Lion has Wings, and The Sea Hawk, with Errol Flynn swashbuckling his last.
Rebecca, I couldn't agree more. I was very disappointed in that programme. Helen Mirren is an excellent actress, very suited to play Elizabeth I. But she was turned into just another girlie.
Never mind Bette Davis, what about Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R? (Or, as Monty Python's Japanese version would have it, Erizabeth L.)
Where have all the strong women gone? Replaced by all those much-of-a-muchness Jennifer Annistons, Gwyneth Paltrows and scores of identikit blonde bimbos.