Follow TV Tropes


Film / Elizabeth

Go To

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

A 1998 British Biopic about the early life of Queen Elizabeth I of England, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role along with Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud, and Richard Attenborough.

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. It adds Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh and Jordi Mollà as the evil Philip II of Spain.

Provides examples of:

  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When Elizabeth's court is assembled to welcome the arrival of the Duke of Anjou and his entourage, they see a richly attired man with an air of nobility approaching and they prepare to honor him. Meanwhile a shabbily dressed piper tootles his way right up to the queen, and when the guards start to grab him, he reveals his goofy joke—"No! Because—I am Anjou! Yes! I am Anjou!"
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Philip II of Spain was dark blond in real life. In the film he's black-haired.
  • Age Lift:
    • Sir William Cecil, as noted under Artistic License – 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 Sr. 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.
    • In the sequel: Clive Owen is relatively close in age to Cate Blanchett (he's five years older), but the real Sir Walter Raleigh was 20 years younger than Elizabeth.
    • An extreme case with Philip II, who was 61 at the point the film is set, while his actor Jordi Mollà was only 39 while shooting the film and looks even younger.
    • Isabella Clara Eugenia of Austria was 21, but is played by a child.
  • 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 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: Has its own page.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Philip II's puppet-like gait might be the film's way to portray the gout that plagued his last years. If this is the case, it should be noted gout causes painfully swollen joints, while the film depicts rather a person with musculoskeletally-challenged but otherwise healthy legs.
  • Art Imitates Art: The costuming and shot composition of the coronation scene are based on Elizabeth's coronation portrait.
  • 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 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
  • Dance of Romance: Between Elizabeth and Lord Robert as the opening credits play.
  • 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.
  • Evil Jesuit: The Jesuits in the films 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.
  • Fanservice: Quite a lot of nudity and sex scenes. One notable example is when the duke of Norfolk has sex with his lover, Lettice Howard, before getting arrested.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: Present in this film as a result of some historical maneuvering. Mary Tudor and the rest of the Catholic Church get a Historical Villain Upgrade, and she is portrayed as a deranged queen. On the other hand, Elizabeth is specifically referred to as "princess" (because she was disinherited, she did not carry this title in real life and was styled Lady), and is the stately, beautiful, intelligent heroine who contrasts her older sister in every way.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 one is 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. That is, the reputation of the man who had her mother beheaded so he could marry somebody else, routinely executed his closest advisers and allies, and had at least people put to death during his reign (actually more people than The Spanish Inquisition in all of its history)- in fact, he routinely executed more people per year than Mary did in her entire reign.
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul:
    • William Cecil was not even 40 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, Marie of Guise died of dropsy (in June 1560, after realizing she had it the previous April) rather than foul play by Francis Walsingham; 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 Marie 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 Marie 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).
  • Historical Ugliness Update:
    • Mary Tudor is portrayed as fat whereas in real-life, Mary was a rail-thin waif who made even the svelte Elizabeth look plump. The likely historical source of this portrayal is her infamous "phantom pregnancy" where her thin abdomen expanded to give the impression that she was pregnant.
    • Sir William Cecil is aged up considerably and looks far weathered compared to portraits of him made at the time (in reality he was almost exactly 13 years her senior; Richard Attenborough was nearly 46 years Cate Blanchett's).
    • Philip II was an elegant, physically fit man who only struggled to walk late in his life due to gout, but the film has Jordi Mollà playing him with deformed, rickety-looking legs.
  • 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 of religious differences.
    • Robert Dudley is actually villainised by this, with his conversion to Catholicism being treated as his Start of Darkness and eventual betrayal of Elizabeth. In point of fact, he would have been outraged by this portrayal, as not only did he never betray Elizabeth, he was a staunch Protestant and Puritan all his life.
    • 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, the Ridolfi plot, was to replace Elizabeth, which of course was what got him executed. He was not the cold and calculating power-hungry mastermind portrayed in the movie.
    • In the film, England is forced to send young and untrained soldiers, including children, to fight in Scotland against the French Queen Regent Mary of Guise - who we are told is plotting to invade England - because the Catholic Bishops spoke in the pulpits against raising a professional army. In truth, Mary of Guise was not planning on invading England, but was crushing a Protestant revolt amongst the Scots. Elizabeth had also had all the English Catholic Bishops thrown in prison before the conflict even began, and the English actually did send professional soldiers to fight in Scotland. They were defeated in battle not because they were untrained children but because they were simply out-played by the French. It is basically just nationalistic propaganda to suggest that the English armies only lost because they were sabotaged by traitorous Catholic clergy.
    • 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, humorless 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 is made of English privateers like Sir Francis Drake raiding Spanish ships and colonies, and no mention is made of Robert Dudley's military campaign in the Netherlands, two 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.
  • 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. Ballard's also been described as dark complexioned, making having blue eyes an unlikely fact.
  • 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".
  • Killer Outfit: One of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting dies after she tries on a poisoned silk dress that was intended for the queen.
  • 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 (but she did not dress up like a French saint, especially as that one was long demonized by the English).
  • 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.
  • The Mole: Walsingham's assistant Thomas Elyot. Sadly, Father Daniel Craig beat him to death with a rock.
  • 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. Also 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: Averted, as the first film has both 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. Both of these were very common female names at the time too, making it pretty inevitable.
  • Out-Gambitted: Walsingham, after his execution of Mary Queen of Scots leads Spain to declare war on England.
  • Out with a Bang: Isabelle Knollys dies while doing it with Lord Robert. Played with in that her dress was poisoned and she would have died anyway.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Elizabeth's gold and ermine coronation cape. She actually breathes a sigh of relief when it's taken off and the weight is off her.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Such fancy dresses were common at the time.
  • Princess Protagonist: The film tells the story of the early life of Elizabeth I. In real life she was disinherited at a young age and would not have been called a princessnote , but she was the daughter of the king and she is addressed as a princess in the film.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sinister Minister: John Ballard and any other Catholic priest come to that.
  • Sparing the Final Mook: After the disastrous battle, Mary finds a single young English soldier alive on the battlefield. Rather than having him killed off, she spares him, largely so he can act as a messenger about the outcome.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Elizabeth The Golden Age