Sunday, April 23, 2006

Elizabeth I: A Comment

Since I'd just gotten back from a conference and thought a treat was in order, I watched Part I of HBO's Elizabeth I last night. Now, Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons are usually great, and they are fine in the parts, but the breathily melodramatic tag line should have been a warning: "She held absolute power over everything . . . except her heart."

Most of the history I've read paints Elizabeth as very intelligent, highly educated (with Roger Ascham as tutor, who wouldn't be?), able to speak Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish, doctrinally sophisticated, politically astute, and so on. But this Elizabeth? Not so much. This version has her barely able to eat dinner unless the Earl of Leicester is present. The famous "heart and stomach of an Englishman" speech before the troops? Leicester's doing. She's all a-flutter and doesn't know what to say to them until he flatters her in this way right before she speaks to the troops and uses his language to put heart into them.

Maybe this is so. I'm hoping that Miriam Burstein or someone will post about this.

[Edited to add] The series also has two principles of plot construction:

1. Whenever Elizabeth makes a decision (e.g., agreeing to marry the Duke d'Anjou), it's invariably a bad one from which she must be rescued by Leicester, Lord Burghley and the group of dour elders in black skullcaps who are her Privy Council, or both.

2. Whenever Elizabeth fails to make a decision (e.g., executing Mary, Queen of Scots), it's invariably a bad idea from which she must be rescued by Burghley, skullcaps, and company.

I sense a theme here.

No comments: