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Elizabeth R

"I have such cunning, that if I were turned out of my realm in my petticoat, I would prosper anywhere in Christendom!"

"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king." —Queen Elizabeth I

Released in 1972, Elizabeth R is a sequel series to The Six Wives of Henry VIII. (Many of the same actors in that production reprised their roles in the first episode of this one, giving it a nice sense of continuity.) Glenda Jackson plays the title monarch, and she does an amazing job of capturing the woman's swagger and vulnerability. The production itself decently balances historical accuracy with the mythos which surrounds Elizabeth—and in that regard, it's a bit more restrained than other media portrayals of the character (which often like to include at least one steamy sex scene between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, the man with whom she was reportedly in love with her entire life. The closest the two characters come to consummating their relationship in Elizabeth R is a long, lingering kiss which takes place in Elizabeth's bedroom as her Ladies-in-Waiting look on in horror. That one scene however, does more to express the passion, tension and danger of their relationship than any artfully choreographed sex scene ever could.)

This series isn't just about Elizabeth's life and loves as a young woman. Her reign lasted for more than 40 years, with her greatest achievements (most notably, the defeat of the Spanish Armada), occurring near the end of her life. Along with her triumphs, there was also tension and tragedy—the early loss of her mother, her imprisonment by her militant Catholic sister Queen Mary, her inability to marry the man she truly loved and her near-death from smallpox.

Elizabeth was also forced to execute her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, when the latter joined in an assassination plot against her. Yet through it all, Elizabeth remained stalwart—and yet, vulnerable. Competent in wielding her power, yet weary of the struggle in keeping everything she had built from crashing down. Because of her colorful life and personality, Elizabeth I is a highly desired role by many dramatic actresses. (Of course, it one of the ONLY really good roles a middle aged actress can play, seeing as how in most media productions of any kind, middle aged women simply do not exist unless they happen to be a main character's mother, aunt, or grandmother.)

This show provides examples of:

  • Celibate Hero: Elizabeth, the "Virgin Queen" herself—-although she probably would not have remained a virgin if her position in life would have allowed it. Some historians think Elizabeth may have been sexually intimate with at least Robert Dudley, although of course it's impossible to prove one way or another. The series implies that she actually was celibate, but was motivated in part by a pathological terror of marriage (and given who her father was...).
  • Corrupt Church: The militant Catholic faction who surrounded Queen Mary and who wanted her to execute the Protestant Elizabeth.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: After the smallpox, we see Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting only from the back for a few minutes, until she turns around to reveal that her face has been terribly scarred.
  • Flash Back: Interestingly, these are point of view flashbacks, showing the scenes which occur before the series as the young Elizabeth would have actually seen them.
  • Foreshadowing: A toy ship that a boy is playing with early in an episode later on becomes an ominous omen of what will happen to the Spanish fleet—when the departing fleet commander accidentally steps on it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: During the raid of Cadiz, one of Sir Francis Drake's men loots a golden chain left behind by the enemy—Drake promptly takes the chain from him, jokingly accuses him of being a pirate...and then puts the chain around his own neck.
  • Kick the Dog: Thomas Seymour does this quite a bit. He openly woos Elizabeth while his pregnant wife is watching. He also tries to kidnap Elizabeth's brother Edward, killing Edward's dog in the process.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mary I's desperate and unsuccessful attempt to conceive.
  • Limited Social Circle: Justified in that in Elizabeth's workday life, she was always surrounded by her Privy Council and Ladies-In-Waiting, who tended to stick with her a long time—some of them even remaining with her during her entire reign.
  • Miles Gloriosus: John Savage. Unfortunately for Babbington, this was the guy he hired to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.
  • Off with His Head!: Mary, Queen of Scots; the Earl of Essex.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Elizabeth wears one spectacular dress after another. According to the DVDs, the dresses took up the entire budget, which is why the sets are usually so sparse.
  • Pretty in Mink: Her "finest gown" in the first episode had ermine sleeves.
  • Save the Villain: Elizabeth repeatedly fights or delays any attempt to execute her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, even after evidence is presented of her role in an assassination plot. Is partially subverted in that the reason Elizabeth wants to save Mary is not just for love of her cousin or for the sake of honor, but because she fears such an act —executing a sovereign Queen— would set a bad precedent and put her own life in danger. Interestingly, Elizabeth seems more open to the idea of having her cousin's death sped up through "non-official" means (e.g., assassination) which may make this a fully subverted trope after all...
  • Scars Are Forever: Although the Queen survives the smallpox with no visible blemishes, one of her loyal ladies-in-waiting also contracts the disease and is disfigured horribly.
  • To the Pain:
    • Essex gets a lovingly detailed description of what his execution is going to be like.
    • The Plotter Babbington also has his future death described to him by the Queen's Torture Master. Said death will apparently involve a lot of groin torture followed by being gutted alive. Babbington, needless to say, isn't happy to hear the news...
  • Too Dumb to Live: As portrayed here, the Earl of Essex's behavior ranges from thoughtless (partying after his stepfather's death) to idiotic (his attempted rebellion). It's implied that some kind of illness made him even worse, to the point that toward the end he was probably mentally ill.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted — all of the characters' speech has been transposed into modern 20th Century English, except when it comes to recited letters or poems, which remain in their original early modern English form.

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