28 October 2007

Elizabeth I (I)

Channel 4 thoughtfully decided to show Shekhar Kapur's take on the early years of Elizabeth I's reign this evening, after I was reminiscing about it last week having seen the sequel (Elizabeth I (II)) and not been very impressed.

Somehow even the first film wasn't as good as I remembered (ah, nostalgia!). This is possibly as Tudor history interests me greatly, particularly the reign of Elizabeth and I have read a number of historical books on the period since I last saw the film (my favourite being Philippa Gregory's novel The Virgin's Lover, which goes into extensive and even explicit detail of the author's opinion on the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley (early modern prophylactics! What fun!)).

While rewatching the film, something struck me as very odd: given that the film plays out as a story of forbidden love, it's strange that Amy Dudley (née Robsart) gets only a passing mention when Elizabeth's trusted advisor William Cecil tells her that, "[Dudley]'s married." Poor old Amy just wasn't good enough for him; so much so that he doesn't even feel the need to list her as a possible barrier between him and Elizabeth.

This is partly due to the poor timeline at the end of the film. In the film, Dudley is ousted from court and banished from Elizabeth's favour because of his involvement in a plot whereby the Duke of Norfolk would marry Mary, Queen of Scots and overthrow Elizabeth. Except, in the film this takes place in 1560 and so can't be the Ridolfi Plot of 1570, which led to Norfolk's execution. I guess the screenwriter got his plots confused, which is fair enough given how many there were in the 16th century.

Even if Dudley had been involved with whichever plot the movie is supposed to represent, it wouldn't have made too much difference given that his wife had already died in suspicious circumstances and he was, thus ruled out as a possible suitor for Elizabeth, to the relief of most of Elizabeth's advisors (in fact, it may even have been the case that spymaster general, Walsingham, arranged to have Amy Dudley killed so that Dudley would be implicated, although no one ever really got to the bottom of the mystery of her death).

I had also forgotten about Dudley's flirtation with and subsequent marriage to one of the queen's ladies, the coy young minx, Lettice Knollys. This pissed off Elizabeth royally, so to speak, but she could hardly complain at this point, having made her intentions perfectly clear. In the film, this isn't touched upon at all but perhaps the director was saving up for the sequel with Bess and Raleigh.

Watching the first film did make me think that the director was just too regretful that even with his shaky understanding of history he couldn't bring Dudley back to court in 1585 and have him continue his merry little dance with Elizabeth. The sequel has many callbacks to the first film but with Raleigh replacing Dudley: the dances, the lines, the stolen moments. Oh, Elizabeth! Why couldn't you just have married him? That would have worked so much better at the cinema!

Anyway, historical issues not excepted, I still enjoyed Elizabeth I (I), which is a jolly romp through the 1550s. Besides, it has a completely random supporting cast including Eric Cantona as the stern French ambassador (he just ensured that war ensued when Good Queen Bess was more interested in Dudley than the marriage suit he was proposing, rather than kicking her in the face), Angus Deayton as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a very young Lily Allen as a maid in waiting and the excellent Vincent Cassel as the Duc d'Anjou (very camp in this film). Oh, and Christopher Eccleston as Norfolk was actually pretty hot in a shaved-headed, blue eyed, scheming traitor kind of way. This was 10 years ago, though, I suppose.

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