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Masterpiece Theatre: Elizabeth I - The Virgin Queen
Masterpiece Theatre Elizabeth I - The Virgin Queen
Actors: Anne-Marie Duff, Tara Fitzgerald, Robert Pugh, Dexter Fletcher, Sienna Guillory
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television
UR     2006     3hr 50min

As The Virgin Queen begins, a young Elizabeth is imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen Mary, charged with conspiracy and treason. Both women are daughters of the ruthless and oft-married Henry VIII, who plunged Englan...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Anne-Marie Duff, Tara Fitzgerald, Robert Pugh, Dexter Fletcher, Sienna Guillory
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, British Television
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 02/28/2006
Original Release Date: 11/13/2005
Theatrical Release Date: 11/13/2005
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 3hr 50min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 22
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A watery, passive, poorly cast, revisionist production
Adam A. Fine | Las Vegas | 06/24/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Filming the story of Gloriana is a virtual guarantee of success for a production studio, from Warner Brothers to BBC. The Virgin Queen still retains her power to enthrall, intrigue and mystify these 500 years after she came to the throne. She was perhaps England's last true absolute monarch, and certainly one of its greatest, if not most famous.

Since the advent of film, she has been one of the most coveted roles to play. Indeed, few monarchs have been so closely chronicled, save perhaps her own father, Henry VIII, and Victoria.

She has been portrayed by some of the most brilliant actresses: Sarah Bernhardt, Bette Davis, Judi Dench, Judith Anderson, Miranda Richardson, Flora Robson, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, even Quentin Crisp, and most famously, and importantly, Glenda Jackson.

And it must be said without doubt that Glenda Jackson's "Elizabeth R" is the defining portrait-- the most accomplished, historically accurate, and masterfully acted. Glenda Jackson is Elizabeth I reincarnate; there is simply none better, and likely never will be.

So now we have Anne-Marie Duff in the red wig for 230 Masterpiece Theatre minutes. Perhaps for the sake of revisionists, we are offered a far less imperious monarch, one who is both reactive (the real one was) and passive (the real one was not). Duff is an odd choice. No beauty like Cate Blanchett, but Elizabeth was known for vanity, not beauty. Duff's Elizabeth, with quivering lip and watercolor behavior, seems filmed underwater, and make for an undesirable monarch-- certainly not the Gloriana of myth or fact. Where is her famous wit, her coy manipulations, her strong moral fiber, her intense devotion to state and loyal courtiers? Left with Glenda Jackson, I suppose. This Elizabeth is a simpering, love-struck maiden or a crass, 60-something hag (and only then do we see bits of fire in the performance). Hag works; crass manages; simpering loses the whole impact.

A suavely elegant, very attractive and distinctly healthy Queen Mary I opens Elizabeth's story (no Catharine Parr, no Thomas Seymour, no childhood) but is quickly dispatched. Just as well, for she's thoroughly ill-cast--Mary was none of those things. (Far better was the wonderful Kathy Burke in the Blanchett version, though she was a bit of a Protestant caricature). Daphne Slater in the Jackson series was far more appealing, and perfectly written.

Elizabeth's transition from prisoner to crown is possibly the greatest story of her long life. No part of her history defines and creates her personality more than these years-- the abuse by Seymour, imprisonment, exile, and finally her accession. Unfortunately, much of this key period is sped through. The fatal flaw in the series is the decision to cast Elizabeth mooning incessantly over Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, here played by a childish, petulant Tom Hardy. There is no chemistry here; he is pretty, but vacant. Glenda Jackson's Dudley, Robert Hardy (no relation that I know of), is a bit of a fop, but he knows his place in court and Elizabeth's heart. Their chemistry is clear. This version of Dudley is a bit ridiculous-- how he would claim the Queen's heart for more than 30 years is a mystery in this performance. So is most of the casting (what's with the acrobat?)

An egregious error in this production is the portrayal of suicide by Dudley's long-suffering wife Amy Robsart, whose death at 26 in 1560 remains to this day a mystery. More time should have been spent on the wooing of Elizabeth by the French Duc d'Alencon, who very nearly came to be her husband (again, the 1971 Glenda Jackson version handles this segment masterfully).

All too soon and without sufficient explanation, we become immersed in the historically key, decades-long battle of wills and imprisonment of the impetuous Mary, Queen of Scots-- Elizabeth's 2nd cousin, granddaughter of Henry VIII's older sister Margaret, whose claim to the English throne made her a rallying point of Catholics, and a very real threat to Elizabeth (it was Mary's son James who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603, founding the ill-fated House of Stuart).

Far more attention should have been paid to the case for and subsequent execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, which was Elizabeth's darkest hour-- forever bloodying her saintly propaganda. Likewise, more attention should have been given to Walshingham, Elizabeth's master of subversion, although William Cecil, Lord Burghley, is given fair due.

The decisive Armada happens much too quickly, lessening its impact and giving far too much time to be spent on the stormy relationship of Elizabeth and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, portrayed by Hans Matheson, who is cast and directed as a bad-tempered, bipolar "Mama's Boy" (a very strange Oedipal twist here) whose hair, look and even attire speak far more to 2005 than 1585. The entire second half of the production is brought down by this admittedly strange relationship, here given a basketful of psychological issues left to the viewer to consider unraveling. The casting is awful, the acting mediocre, the personality baffling. This Essex is a wreck-- blame the revisionist director.

Two significant annoyances: Elizabeth's (Duff's) accent isn't simply London middle-class, which would be fine, but stands in stark contrast to everyone else's appropriate English diction and clarity. She comes off as a guttersnipe. And worse of all-- distracting to the utmost-- is the incessant soundtrack that dominates--and not pleasantly-- the action and plot of the movie. The sheer volume of it is horrendous, to say nothing of the attempts at mixing courtly historical period music with Essex's electric guitar.

My suggestion here is to rent this one, watch it as long as you can, and then return to Davis, Blanchett, Jackson, or even Dench. Overall, a disappointment. Were it not for 95% historical accuracy and enjoyable period costumes-- plus the decent acting (most of the problems are the director's fault, don't blame the actors), it would have earned one star. But this Queen is no legend, and this cast is horrendous. An inglorious Gloriana."
Elizabethan drama, literally
FrKurt Messick | Bloomington, IN USA | 11/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a very interesting programme, produced in Britain and originally shown on the PBS series, Masterpiece Theatre.

This miniseries was directed by Coky Giedroyc, a veteran of television productions in Britain, including another royal-themed miniseries, 'William and Mary', in 2003. Giedroyc brings an interesting modern twist to the series - rather than filming things in majestic, sweeping camera pans with classical music as a background, and rather than having the dialogue (and acting) be in a stilted, falsely formal style, Giedroyc incorporates modern music with medieval and Celtic flavouring to it (both of which have experienced a renaissance of sorts in the past decade), and the situations are decidedly modern without being out of place in their own times.

This presents the life of Elizabeth from her young adulthood under Queen Mary, as a supposed participant in intrigues against the Catholic Queen, through to her death after serving decades on the throne of England as the Virgin Queen, the queen who never married. In fact, the miniseries plays a tantalising game with Elizabeth's virginity, showing her desires (as well as those around her) without ever giving up the game of 'was she or wasn't she?' Anne-Marie Duff plays the part of Elizabeth, and does a remarkably able job for such a complex figure. Duff won the Irish Television award and was nominated for the BAFTA award for best actress in a television drama in another series, 'Shameless', last year.

Duff is joined by Tom Hardy, who plays the role of Robert Dudley, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth. Dudley is also an extraordinarily complex role, as he played several sides in the political struggles during Elizabeth's early reign, and was part of a family well experienced in regal intrigue - Robert Dudley's family had tried to manage the reign of Elizabeth's brother Edward, engineer the accession of Lady Jane Grey (placing Guildford Dudley on the throne with her), and is sometimes referred to as 'the uncrowned kings of England'. In fact, perhaps the most stunning single scene in this miniseries is after Elizabeth has elevated Robert Dudley to the earldom of Leicester, and during her illness, he sits upon the throne as the protector of the realm. Hardy is well suited to this role, and plays it with skill.

The sets are appropriate to their time period, neither too ornate nor too medieval; the costumes also have a touch of modernity to them, but are still primarily of the period. The situations presented give good insight into the overall pattern of Elizabeth's reign and some of the principal concerns during that time period, although to compress such a long reign into such a short time frame as a four-hour miniseries by necessity means that the history has had to be selectively chosen. Elizabeth faced problems from without and within, many of which were far more complex and pressing than her marriage issue. In the end, Elizabeth made the right decision for the time, if not for the future.

This is a great production for television, and holds up well against other major productions featuring the Virgin Queen Elizabeth of a few years ago."
Good, but flawed
C. Goette | St. Louis, MO | 06/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This production has a lot going for it. Anne-Marie Duff makes a great Elizabeth, and she is supported by an equally talented cast. The sets, lighting, costuming and direction are good, and the makeup artists did a terrific job of aging Duff as the movie progressed. I occasionally found the music too much; it sometimes seemed loud and overwhelmed the action, but overall I enjoyed it.

The catch is that the concept of the movie works better in theory than it does in practice. The Virgin Queen, as the title indicates, focuses on Elizabeth's personal relationships, most specifically her love interests. To an extent, limiting the program makes sense; Elizabeth was about 69 at her death, and ascended to the throne at 25. However, over all, Elizabeth's relationships were unusually embarrassing and sad, and to focus on them to the near-exclusion of the other events in her life leaves us with little more than a gossipy, costumed soap opera. While the events depicted are factual--except where artistic license is used to explain murky aspects--Elizabeth often comes of as a bit trite, and the real queen, for all of her capriciousness, was anything but trite. She saw her kingdom through massive changes, left it stronger than she found it, and was so influential that her reign is still considered a golden age.

There are some genuinely touching moments, and the production is of good quality. This is a worthwhile purchase, so long as you understand that the focus is very limited.
What they were REALLY like in Elizabeth's Court
D. Maier | Ohio, USA | 12/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I am not a professional reviewer. I have seen the "Elizabeth R" series on Masterpiece Theatre and also the most recent "Elizabeth" with Cate Blanchett. They were both excellent in their way and genre. Robert Hardy played the Earl of Leceister in the original "Elizabeth R" and Thomas Hardy plays the same role in "The Virgin Queen". I don't think they are related. I did not expect to like this series. Now I LOVE it. First of all, Elizabeth was barely 25 years old when she ascended the throne. And she knew Robert Dudley as a child. He was proclaimed one of the handsomest men in England. When you watch this movie you realize that for all her great intelligence and advanced book learning, she was a young and impressionable woman. Watch them dance in front of the Archduke's ambassador in part one. The music and the way they look at one another, it pulls your heart. Imagine spending the formative years of your life under threat of a perpetual death sentence only to become not only FREE but top of the heap so to speak. Watch when they come to tell her she is Queen. The music and the look on her face. When she runs to the tree outside of Hatfield house. The music alone makes this series memorable. See this as a slice of true life. When I was 25 years old my aunt called me a "kid". When I see photos of that time, I realize what she meant now. Her court at her accession were a very young group of people. Sadly she outlived most of peers and was later surrounded by those who did not know her as a young and vibrant queen. Enjoy this series. And this actress does a fantastic older queen as well. Especially when she "forgives that fart" of one of her courtiers in her old age. What really happened was he bowed to her at one point and a massive FART slipped out. He left the country and traveled for SEVEN years. When he returned and was presented again at court one of the first things she said was "I had forgot that fart".

Watch it!"