The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Elizabeth


I'll never understand the modern fascination with royalty. They're just puppets of the government who exist for tacky celebrity pageants. The fact that people think Elizabeth II is a great Queen is beyond me. Nothing against the woman, she's done the circumspect and pointless job she's been required to do tirelessly for sixty years (whilst lining her own pockets and quietly avoiding tax for most of the time). However, during her tenure as Head of State, the Empire was dismantled, many Commonwealth nations rid themselves of the monarchy as Head of State (good for them), the financial world brought Britain to its knees, the gap between rich and poor widened, Scotland elected a party whose main aim is breaking up the UK... I'm not saying ANY of this is her fault (of course it isn't, she's had no power) but the fact remains that it was under her watch as Head of State that all these things happened. A 'great' Head of State wouldn't merrily fiddle while Rome burns (whilst putting on shows to distract people) but that's all a constitutional monarch can do. He or she can't even offer an OPINION on what is happening to the people of Britain.

So let's take a look at Shekhar Kapur's 1998 dramatization of the early years in the reign of the greatest monarch that Great Britain has ever seen. "Elizabeth" starring Cate Blanchett.

As the movie opens, Mary I of England, a devout Roman Catholic, is in her final days as she dies of a cancerous tumor of her uterus, leaving her Protestant half-sister (who had recently been jailed for supposedly plotting to murder Mary) is given the throne. Did I mention this was at a time when Protestants were being burned at the stake as heretics en masse? Let's just say that hilarity is about to ensue as the Roman Catholic Church tries to remove her by fueling many threats to her reign such as including the Duke of Norfolk; her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scotts, who conspires to have her murdered; Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, who brings French troops into Scotland to attack Elizabeth's forces when they invade.

Throughout the movie, Elizabeth turns down many marriage proposals, as her heart lies with Joseph Fiennes' Robert Dudley (historically, the least popular man in the court... oh, it's hard to be the monarch's favorite), which sours when she learns of his own secret marriage. But truthfully, Elizabeth hardens and wants no one man to ever have any kind of power over her. She also grows more ruthless as the film progresses, hardening, and taking Francis Walsingham as her right-hand man to handle all of her wetwork, from having Mary of Guise poisoned, to torturing and killing all threats to her rule.

The movie ends with Elizabeth casting off the girl and becoming the hardened embodiment of the state of England personified. The transformation is brilliant as she almost ceases to be human, and instead becomes a symbol, a larger than life figure who we still talk about today. 

I think Walsingham had the most sense out of all of her advisers  Geoffrey Rush, who played Walsingham did an amazing job. He made the character honest yet secretive, goo- natured yet manipulative, charming but deadly. His character didn't get a whole lot of screen time, but any scene he had was brilliant. My favourite scene in the entire movie is when Walsingham is having a feast with Mary of Guise. When first saw it, I thought he was a traitor but then when I realized that he was there to kill her for Elizabeth's sake I was relieved. It's a well done scene.

Speaking of Mary of Guise, I loved this character and Fanny Ardant's portrayal of her. She was supposed to be wild and uninhibited, and they captured that look perfectly. Makeup WAS around at that time, just look at Elizabeth's own shocking look near the end. Cosmetics have been used for thousands of yeas, and her wild unkempt look was a nice contrast to Elizabeth and her stuffy crew.

The only thing that I dislike about Kapur's film was Dudley being involved in the conspiracy to remove Elizabeth from the throne. This aspect of the movie was pure fiction. Elizabeth and Dudley did have several arguments and falling outs over the years, but he was never involved in a plot to assassinate her or in danger of being executed for conspiracy.  What Kapur doesn't bother to tell the viewer (and I'm told the sequel has the same problem), is that Dudley remained part of Elizabeth's cabinet until the end of his life and was one of her commanders during the Spanish Armada invasion in 1588. In fact, when Elizabeth died, they found that she had kept his final letter to her in a silver box near her bed.

Now, a lot of people will ask... what if Elizabeth had found the right man? Given Elizabeth's family history, I think she never really wanted to marry and put herself under the domination of a man. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, who was murdered on trumped-up charges by her father, Henry VIII, and the stepdaughter of Katharine Howard, Anne's cousin also judicially murdered. She had witnessed close-up the powerlessness of women, even those who were noble. I am reading a biography of Elizabeth. One of the things stated is that she had no particular maternal instinct, and perhaps no interest in continuing the Tudor dynasty. If this was true, it is certainly understandable, as except for the fact that her power derived from her father, Henry VIII, she had not had a particularly close relationship with him; she reminded him of her disgraced mother, and Henry had had her bastardized after her mother's execution. She could say nothing against him, of course, but she was known to wear a ring with a miniature of her mother inside a hinged compartment. The ring still survives. That being said, however, Elizabeth did enjoy flirtation and playing at romance. She did have favorite male courtiers with whom she flirted. She also enjoyed the attempted courtships between her and crowned or noble heads of various European realms proposed for her. Of course, they never came to anything because she really didn't want to marry.  In addition, because of her Protestantism, her choices among the more powerful countries were limited (in addition, her counselors were suspicious of foreign-born consorts). and there was no one equal to her station in her own realm. There really was no "right man" for Elizabeth.

Overall, I recommend the movie. Great direction, perfect costuming that really reflects what's going on psychologically with each of the characters.

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