Film / Elizabeth

"Observe, Lord Burghley. I am married... to England."

A 1998 Biopic of the early life of Queen Elizabeth I of England starring Cate Blanchett in the title role. It broke the usual "period piece" mould of English biographical pictures in that it was directed by an Indian, Shekhar Kapur, took a much more dramatic style of storytelling, and didn't shy away from some historical truths of the era, such as dirt, poverty, and torture.

Followed by a 2007 sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age with the same director and Cate Blanchett once again as the Virgin Queen.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Philip II of Spain was blond in real life. In the film he's dark and swarthy. A European variant of Latino Is Brown.
  • Age Lift: Sir William Cecil, as noted under Hollywood History, was only 13 years older than Elizabeth. In the film he's in his fifties at least. On the flip side, Kat Ashley was much older than Elizabeth (31 years older, having acted as her governess and a surrogate mother since Elizabeth was 4 years old). Here she's portrayed to be similar in age to her.
    • The Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, was 3 years younger than Elizabeth in Real Life as opposed to roughly a decade older (his age is unstated here, but Christopher Eccleston was roughly 34 when filming his part, and his character is depicted as being in his 30s). There may be some Composite Character at play, here - Howard's father would have been 41 when Elizabeth was crowned, but her dear old dad had him executed in early 1547; in turn, his father (the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, also named Thomas Howard) outlived him, but only because his execution happened to be scheduled on the day that Henry VIII died. Howard Snr. was released later that year, helped Mary I ascend after her half-brother Edward's death in 1553, and when he died in 1554 his grandson succeeded him as 4th Duke of Norfolk until his death in 1572.
  • Arranged Marriage: Averted, perhaps unsurprisingly given Elizabeth was remembered by history as the Virgin Queen. In the film many attempts are made at marrying off Elizabeth to ensure an heir to the throne, but none succeed. Indeed the film's Crowning Moment of Awesome and Awesome Moment of Crowning, from which the page quote arises, is a Take That! to the constant attempts of Lord Burghley to force Elizabeth into precisely this.
  • Artistic License History: Good God, where to begin? Word of God states that their original intent was to make a film about a conspiracy in Elizabeth's court, rather than an accurate biopic.
    • William Cecil was not even forty by the time Elizabeth came to the throne, and she did not retire him by making him Lord Burghley: she ennobled him as a reward for his services and he remained her most loyal advisor until his death a few years before the queen's. Similarly, Francis Walsingham was only a few years older than Elizabeth. In the second film, Elizabeth visits him when he is dying. In real life she simply let him die in poverty and didn't go to see him.
    • Henri of Anjou was probably not a crossdresser and he wasn't homosexual - the number of his female mistresses is almost uncountable; in addition, he and Elizabeth never met. Also, his aunt Mary of Guise died of dropsy (in June 1560, after realizing she had it the previous April) rather than any foul play; this was confirmed by autopsy the day after her death. It is highly unlikely that the two of them were in a sexual relationship.
      • Nor was Mary of Guise his aunt, or related to him by blood - her daughter Mary I of Scotland was married to Henri's eldest brother, Francis II of France (married from 1558 until his death in 1560 - childless, in fact); in fact, Henri's family, the House of Valois, were long-time rivals with Mary's House of Guise, and Henri never even met Mary of Guise in his lifetime.
      • He is also a Composite Character: in Real Life, Elizabeth's French suitor was his younger brother, Hercule Francis, who became Duke of Anjou - but not until 1576. Henri became King Henri III of France after their brother, Charles IX died in 1574, and the duchy of Anjou went to Francis as a result. He courted Elizabeth in 1579, when he was 24 and she 46 (and still capable of bearing children). Although this didn't pan out due to the complex politics of the time (and fear that Elizabeth would be at risk if she tried to bear children at her age), she was by all accounts genuinely fond of him despite the age gap, and the match was given far more serious consideration than the film depicts (even reaching an actual betrothal at one point).
    • Mary I was actually very skinny rather than overweight in the film and Norfolk was a weak and easily-manipulated man rather than the film's powerful and scheming counterpart. Mary's tumour also killed her 3 years after the phantom pregnancy.
    • Elizabeth knew that Leicester was already married because she had attended his wedding - his second, that is, the first wife died under suspicious circumstances (and Elizabeth knew of her as well). Moreover, he wasn't banished for being involved in a Catholic plot (because he was a Puritan) but instead because of a scandal over the mysterious death of his second wife.
    • Bishop Stephen Gardiner died before Elizabeth came to the throne and thus could not possibly have been involved in any plots. The Earl of Arundel was not executed for his role but was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London where he died as a prisoner and the Earl of Sussex was actually a loyal supporter of Elizabeth who would not have tried to overthrow her.
    • Elizabeth may not have actually had a sexual encounter with the Earl of Leicester and she did not cut her hair to show that she was a virgin. The wig is thought to have been to hide her greying hair and the white make-up to hide scars she got from smallpox.
    • Throughout the film, bishops are shown wearing black mitres that they never would have worn in real life.
    • Elizabeth reprimands one of her council members for divorcing twice. In reality, it was more or less impossible to obtain a divorce at this time - something that Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, knew very well.
    • At the start of the film, the execution of Nicholas Ridley is shown with two other people, of which one must be Hugh Latimer. However, their companion, an unnamed woman, is made up because Ridley and Latimer weren't burnt with anyone else.
    • Sir Thomas Elyot is beaten to death with a rock and drowned by Ballard for being a Reverse Mole. However, the real Elyot died at his estates in Cambridgeshire in 1546. He was also in his fifties.
    • In the second film, Elizabeth frequently consults Dr. John Dee over various matters. However, Dee was abroad at this time and didn't return to England until more than a year after the Spanish Armada.
    • In the second film, nearly everything that Walter Raleigh does was actually done by Sir Francis Drake. Raleigh was kept in England when the Armada attacked because the Queen did not want him to be killed. Defeating the Armada was Drake's moment of triumph but he is hardly in the film.
    • The Earl of Nottingham states that the Spanish Armada have destroyed several English ships. In reality the English didn't lose a single ship.
    • Philip II of Spain is shown as a hunched and shadowy figure with a dark beard who is an incompetent king and a religious fanatic. The real Philip was known as being highly intelligent and had several successes with his foreign policies. He was also tall, blond and handsome.
    • The Infanta of Spain was not a child at the time of the Armada but was in fact twenty-one.
    • Sir Walter Raleigh was not knighted to keep him in England but to reward his services. He was also knighted on his ship and not against his will. Also, although Raleigh was imprisoned by Elizabeth, it didn't happen until several years after the Armada.
    • Raleigh was not a pirate, Drake was.
    • Mary, Queen of Scots's gaoler, Amyas Paulet, actually treated her rather well.
    • Walter Raleigh quite famously had a strong West Country accent that meant some courtiers had difficulty understanding him. Francis Drake also had the same accent. In the second film, Mary, Queen of Scots is portrayed with a Scottish accent, when she would have had a French one as a result of living in France for years since she was a child.
    • Frequently men at court are shown wearing long cloaks and carrying swords in the Queen's presence. Swords weren't allowed in court and the real Elizabeth actually banned long cloaks in case an assassin was hiding a weapon under it.
    • At one point a man is hanged using the 'long drop' method with a trapdoor. This method of execution was not invented until the Nineteenth Century.
    • Raleigh did not have an affair with Bess Throckmorton until three years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
    • The film ends with the captions "Elizabeth reigned for another 40 years" (her full reign was almost 45, so the movie crams almost 20 years of anachronistic history into just under 5); "Walsingham remained her most trusted and loyal advisor to the end" (VERY arguable, as the likes of Dudley and Cecil probably have better claims) and "She never married and never saw Dudley in private again" (she and Dudley remained close friends until his death, so this is an outright lie).
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Subverted in that this is real life crowning at the beginning of the movie and the character has to then prove she's fit to rule.
  • Badass Boast: In the sequel, the Spanish ambassador threatens the Queen with the imminent invasion of the Spanish Armada
    Queen Elizabeth: Go back to your rat hole! Tell Philip I fear neither him, nor his priests nor his armies. Tell him if he wants to shake his little fists at us we'll give him such a bite he'll wish he had kept his hands in his pockets!
    Don Guerau De Spes: You see a leaf fall, and you think you know which way the wind blows. Well, there is a wind coming, Madame, that will sweep away your pride.
    Queen Elizabeth: I, too, can command the wind, sir! I HAVE A HURRICANE IN ME THAT WILL STRIP SPAIN BARE IF YOU DARE TO TRY ME!
  • Badass Preacher: Catholic priests are apparently all trained assassins in the 16th century.
  • Batman Gambit: The Spanish Armada comes about from one: Anthony Babington was a patsy who was given an unloaded gun, intended to lead Walsingham right to Mary, Queen of Scots as the one who ordered the assassination. As she was the officially recognized ruler of England by the Pope, her execution gives the Spanish an excuse to attack.
  • Berserk Button: For Elizabeth, it's any man claiming she is 'theirs'.
    "I will have one mistress here. And no master!
  • Break the Cutie: Basically, the entire film, with Elizabeth being the operative cutie.
  • Break the Haughty: Norfolk by the end.
  • Brick Joke: The horse that jumps off one of the Spanish ships in The Golden Age.
  • Camp Straight: Elizabeth's French suitor, the Duke of Anjou.
  • Camping a Crapper: Sussex was arrested while in the toilet.
  • Call-Back: When Elizabeth is taken to the Tower of London, one of the men interrogating her offers her his cloak. She responds "I shall not forget this kindness". Later when he is one of the men in on the plot against her, before his execution she says "all your many kindnesses are remembered".
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Elizabeth in part 2, over Francis Drake.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture
  • Costume Porn: Holy hell, yes.
  • Daddy's Girl: Elizabeth appears to be so.
  • Dance of Romance: Between Elizabeth and Lord Robert as the opening credits play.
  • Death by Sex: Isabelle Knollys dies while doing it with Lord Robert. Played with in that her dress was poisoned and she would have died anyway.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Queen means well but it doesn't change the fact she is an autocrat who believes she is above the law.
  • Disappeared Dad: Specifically, Henry VIII, though it's only referenced in one scene.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his introductory scene, Walsingham talks a youthful assassin out of killing him, giving a philosophical reverie about the nature of God and the universe. He then slashes the boy's throat.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Elizabeth is addressed as 'Princess Elizabeth' before being thrown in the tower. In reality she was disinherited and declared illegitimate at age 3 - and was only ever referred to as 'Lady Elizabeth' afterwards.
    • Though her father did reinstate both Mary and Elizabeth as legitimate just before his death, which is why Mary, who'd been declared illegitimate even earlier than Elizabeth, could still inherit the throne.
  • Evil Jesuit: The Jesuits in the film are portrayed as brutal assassins sent to murder Elizabeth.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: After she is crowned Queen, Elizabeth is shown with a fringe. As the film goes on, she is shown with her hair up more often than down - to demonstrate the passing of time.
  • Foreshadowing: Elizabeth and Walsingham's quarrel in the Golden Age about Mary Stuart's execution is an omen of the quarrel between the Crown and Parliament which would lead to the English Civil War.
    Elizabeth: "The law is for common men, not princes."
    Walsingham: "The Law, your majesty, is for the protection of your people."
  • French Jerk: Elizabeth's French suitor, the Duc d'Anjou, who embarrasses her publicly at their first meeting. Mary of Guise is the female version.
    • Averted with the French Ambassador, played by Eric Cantona.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Walsingham goes from an exile to the Queen's most powerful (and sinister) official.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Mary Tudor at the start. She's remembered as "Bloody Mary" for a reason.
  • Grand Vizier: Subverted. Walsingham, who has all the defining features of a Grand Vizier, and even appears about to fulfill this trope in one scene, is utterly loyal to Elizabeth and according to the film's postscript served her faithfully for the rest of his life.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Twice actually. The first part of the film is about Elizabeth surviving the wrath of her sister, the second about finding a marriage suitor and the third about a conspiracy to remove her from the throne.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Well being queen obviously has a lot to do with it as well.
  • The High Queen: A major reason for Elizabeth's transformation at the end of the film. It's referenced directly in the film:
    Elizabeth: I have rid England of her enemies. What do I do now? Am I to be made of stone? Must I be touched by nothing?
    Walsingham: Aye, Madam, to reign supreme. All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Kat Ashley, played by the young and pretty Emily Mortimer. In reality she was 31 years older than Elizabeth and had been her governess.
    • Inverted with Sir William Cecil who is aged up considerably (in reality he was almost exactly 13 years her senior; Richard Attenborough was nearly 46 years Cate Blanchett's). Ditto for Philip II of Spain who was blond and handsome in real life.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Elizabeth. While not exactly treated as nice, the films manage to cover up much of her dirty laundry.
    • Walsingham gets a historical Anti-Hero upgrade, being both even more ruthless and yet also much more important and chessmaster-y than he was in Real Life.
    • Walter Raleigh basically steals the life of Francis Drake and becomes the hero who defeats the Spanish Armada, rather than a bit player in the battle.
      • It wasn't even Drake's moment to shine. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, was the English Lord High Admiral at the time.
    • A subtle and arguable one with Elizabeth and Walsingham kneeling under a gigantic portrait of Henry VIII and wondering what he, her father, would have done, and if she'd ever live up to his reputation. The reputation of the man who had her mother beheaded so he could marry somebody else, routinely executed his closest advisers and allies, and possibly had as many as 10,000 people put to death during his reign.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Pretty much the entire Catholic Church and Catholics in general get this overhaul in the film. Both Bloody Mary and the Pope live in small, dark, spartan rooms where they give orders to crazed and murderous fanatics. Bloody Mary herself is depicted as a deranged toad of a woman attended by a creepy dwarf maid. This is in contrast to Elizabeth, who is beautiful, brave, stately, and tolerant.
    • Robert Dudley is actually villainised by converting to Catholicism, the start of his betrayal of Elizabeth. In point of fact, not only did he never betray Elizabeth, he was a staunch Puritan until the day he died, and would never have dreamed of converting to the Catholic faith.
    • The Duke of Norfolk was actually just a naive and gullible co-conspirator in a couple of plots, the first of which was only to marry Mary of Scotland, which alone was enough to get him jailed for a time (the second was to replace Elizabeth, which of course got his head the chop). He was not the cold and calculating power-hungry mastermind portrayed in the movie.
    • The Earl of Sussex, Thomas Radclyffe, who was loyal to Elizabeth throughout his life rather than another traitor.
    • Father John Ballard is given the Establishing Character Moment of beating the young Sir Thomas Elyot to death with a rock, an event that never occurred (not least because Elyot died before Elizabeth even came to the throne, at the age of 55-56). He was not in England to assassinate Elizabeth (at least, not directly as the movie shows), although he initiated the Babington plot to overthrow her (the movie uses both this and the separate Ridolfi plot and treats them as one scheme). In Real Life he also had the cover story of being a soldier and well-dressed swashbuckler, while the movie portrays him as merely a drab, humourless fanatic. His death- hung, drawn and quartered alive, along with some of the other conspirators- was also so shocking and brutal to witnesses that Elizabeth forbade that method being used again.
    • The sequel basically portrays 16th Century Spain as a whole in the same way. In addition to making Jesuits assassins. Not much mention of English privateers raiding Spanish ships and colonies, one of the main motives for the Spanish campaign. The portrayal of Philip II is pretty much in keeping with traditionalist and biased Anglo-American histories, rather than more balanced modern ones.
  • The House of Tudor: It's the historical setting of the film.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Elizabeth and John Ballard each have a set.
    • Which makes it another case of Hollywood History: Elizabeth (rather famously) had her mother Anne's dark brown eyes. They're visible in nearly every single portrait painted of the Queen.
  • Important Haircut: The film's climax, and one hell of a Tear Jerker for anyone sympathetic to what Elizabeth is doing to herself.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Elizabeth "promotes" Sir William to Lordship so he can "enjoy his retirement".
  • Lady Macbeth: On the protagonist side. Lettice Howard is implied to have given Walsingham the information necessary to implicate Norfolk in the plot to assassinate the Queen.
  • Lady of War: Elizabeth wears armor and gives a Rousing Speech to her troops in the sequel.
  • Lighter and Softer: The sequel isn't as dark and confined as it used to be and the whole film is more Narmish.
  • Marry for Love: Averted, given the object of Elizabeth's desires is already married and then leads a rebellion against her.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Although as a monarch she is mononymous by default.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Subverted.
    Norfolk: "I believe a man's courage is measured through the manner of his death. So cut off my head and make me a martyr. The people will always remember."
    Walsingham: "No. They will forget."
  • Nerves of Steel: Elizabeth in part 2 faces down an assassin who loses his nerve first. It's only afterward that she faints.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Done several times in the film's soundtrack. It makes one wonder about the actual intentions of the creator as these are actual Catholic liturgic texts—in a film about a Protestant queen.
  • Ominous Walk: A Catholic priest. Done in Slow Motion for extra points.
    • And in the sequel where King Philip, his daughter and their retinue are walking along a shipyard where the Armada is being built.
  • One Steve Limit: The first film has Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's sister and Mary of Guise, as well as a mention of Mary, Queen of Scots. The second addresses this with Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting Bess - nicknamed so because she has the same name as the Queen.
  • Out-Gambitted: Walsingham, after his execution of Mary Queen of Scots leads Spain to declare war on England.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Elizabeth's gold and ermine coronation cape. She actually breaths a sign of relief when it's taken off and the weight is off her.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Such fancy dresses were common at the time.
  • The Purge: Elizabeth, through Walsingham, has all her enemies like the Duke of Norfolk and Mary of Guise assassinated in the end of the film.
    • The same goes for inner enemies like Mary Stuart in the sequel.
  • Rapunzel Hair: One of Cate Blanchett's more remembered roles with hair like this.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Presumably the reason why the second film claims that several English ships were destroyed during the Spanish Armarda, when in reality, England didn't lose a single ship in the entire battle!
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: Of course Elizabeth wears the whole shebang during her coronation, but one of the most significant ones is the ring that is taken off Mary when she does and is delivered to Elizabeth.
  • Reverse Mole: Walsingham's assistant Thomas Elyot. Sadly, Father Daniel Craig beat him to death with a rock.
  • Sinister Minister: John Ballard.
    • And any other Catholic priest come to that.
  • Take a Level in Badass: Elizabeth. From condemned, helpless princess to iron-fisted queen of England in the space of under two screen hours.
    • The actual time span was 20 years.
  • Take a Third Option: Fourth, actually. Elizabeth "marries" England instead of an English, French or Spanish groom.
  • Token Good Teammate: The Earl of Arundel from the first film. He bore the Queen no ill will but was devoutly Catholic.
    • He's heavily implied to have been this to Mary as well, since we're first introduced to him offering reasonable advice, being deeply apologetic when attempting to get a confession from Elizabeth and then offering his cloak to her when she's sent to the Tower, not out of pity, but because he didn't want her to be cold.
  • Troll: Walsingham is quite clearly doing this, when he unlocks the prominent Catholic men he's shut away so they wouldn't strengthen opposition:
    Gardiner: I'm sure this infernal work has not saved your bastard Queen.
    Walsingham: Her Majesty... has won the argument.
    Gardiner: ...By what count?
    Walsingham: <slight pause, considering> By five, Your Grace.
    Camera shows six men were locked down there.
    Walsingham: Five.
    • While rehearsed, Elizabeth herself was clearly having some fun trolling the Lords whilst getting the Act of Uniformity passed.
  • Unflinching Walk: Ballard does one toward Elizabeth before she is called away when one of his victims is found.
  • Woman in White: Elizabeth twice, notably at the end and as well when she is taken into the Tower for questioning. That one is actually historically true as Elizabeth is recorded as wearing a pure white gown when being questioned.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Pretty much The Movie.

Alternative Title(s): Elizabeth The Golden Age