|Elizabeth I (2006)
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Hugh Dancy, Patrick Malahide, Toby Jones, Barbara Flynn, Ian McDiarmid, Simon Woods, Ewen Bremner
Director: Tom Hooper
William Cecil, Lord Burghley: For 19 years your majesty, this council has implored you to secure your succession by marriage. You have refused all suitors, but now...
Queen Elizabeth I: I do not say I will not marry, Lord Burghley; the question before us is whom.
And that, at least for those who are unfamiliar with their history, is the question that remains throughout HBO’s fantastic miniseries, “Elizabeth I.”
Helen Mirren plays the monarch of England, a woman of considerable political strength who sought love throughout her life, only to find herself unwilling or unable to select a husband. “Elizabeth I” focuses on two significant loves of the Queen’s life: the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), and his stepson, the Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy). In this two-part miniseries, the first half is dedicated to the former, the second to the latter, with other political goings-on occurring simultaneous to the Queen’s search for true love. It is said that the Earl of Leicester was the love of Elizabeth’s life; the Earl of Essex, meanwhile, served in more the role of, shall we say, a boy toy. (Their age difference was significant.)
Nothing ever goes to plan for poor Elizabeth when it comes to love; she’s left momentarily dumbfounded when she hears that the Earl of Leicester has been married, and she’s similarly stricken when the grapevine reveals that the Earl of Essex has gone and gotten a poor girl pregnant. In both cases, her first response is sheer anger, though forgiveness rears its head when Her Majesty is reminded that the throne of England is a very lonely seat. Trust is a key issue of the miniseries, with Elizabeth finding it very difficult to place hers in the hands of anyone without soon suffering betrayal.
Though drama is central to the proceedings, inevitably, Elizabeth’s pithy comments result in some highly chuckle-worthy dialogue, such as her musings on other European countries. When the Earl of Leicester suggests that the English at least have religion in common with the Dutch, Her Majesty replies, “The Dutch have no religion; they have cheese.” (She also offers withering observations about Scotland, Ireland, and France, but why spoil the fun by revealing all the best lines?)
Special features include the obligatory making-of featurette, as well as a short documentary called “Uncovering the Real Elizabeth I,” where historian Dr. David Starkey declares the miniseries to be, “without any doubt, the best film overall that’s been made on Elizabeth.” Not being a historian, I couldn’t testify to such a lofty claim…but it’s certainly a gorgeous presentation that’s brilliantly acted. It’s no wonder that the series won nine Emmys, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Lead Actress (Mirren) and Outstanding Supporting Actor (Irons) in a Miniseries or a Movie, as well as Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Hooper). Poor Hugh Dancy, unfortunately, got the short end of the stick by being nomination in the same category as Irons; only one shall emerge victorious, and, though his performance was indeed outstanding, in the long run, Irons probably ended up winning over Dancy because he’s the better-known actor.Those who twitch at the thought of viewing a period piece will find that, in addition to the gorgeous cinematography and gripping historical drama that unfolds throughout the miniseries, Mirren, Irons, and Dancy deliver performances that will hold your attention despite the chronological setting.