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Series / Elizabeth R

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"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 1971, 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 I—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 Philip II's 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:

  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • Walsingham is practically the Deuteragonist of the fourth episode, while almost none of the rest of the council is present for most of the run time as the focus is on Walsingham's handling of the Babbington Plot to prove Mary Queen of Scots is plotting against Elizabeth.
    • Essex is the Deuteragonist of the sixth episode, which focuses on the Ireland campaign for long stretches and as he was the commander and Elizabeth was not there, the focus is on him. The episode is also about his downfall in general before segueing to Elizabeth's eventual passing at the end.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Essex seems to suffer from something resembling bipolar disorder.
  • Artistic License History: While a common mistake, Elizabeth is shown to learn Mary is dead when a courtier (Nickolas Throckmorton) brings her a ring Mary never takes off. In real life Throckmorton was two days behind the first official messengers (as the whole nation knew Mary was dying for some time, they were ready to send the message instantly), though Elizabeth was still pleased by his dedication.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: No matter how much Elizabeth unloads her rage on Kat Ashley, Kat is one of the very few people Elizabeth can truly be herself with and, more importantly, on most subjects Kat can actually get away with talking back to the Queen and telling her off without being carted off to the tower. Kat has suffered through it all with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is ever thankful to her for it.
  • Blatant Lies: The Spanish Ambassador in the first episode, when dealing with Mary who is deeply upset to hear Philip has mistresses and bastards. Mary even calls him on it at one point, though is eventually convinced anyway that Philip is "as chaste as ice."
  • Celibate Hero: Elizabeth I, 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...).
  • The Chessmaster: Walsingham, the spymaster. He gets one of the spies to convince Mary Queen of Scots that he is smuggling her letters out unseen, and getting letters to her the same way, when Walsingham is actually reading everything.
    • Elizabeth herself, who acts to keep everything running how she wants it, and no other way.
  • Control Freak: Philip of Spain in regards to the Armada—he chooses the commanders despite doubts (sometimes from the chosen men themselves!), wants it to sail by a certain date despite advice from everyone always telling him they cannot be ready so soon, ignores things like not having enough seasoned wood for barrels...
  • Corrupt Church: The militant Catholic faction who surrounded Queen Mary and who wanted her to execute the Protestant Elizabeth.
  • The Dandy: Several, as it was encouraged for younger courtiers to be this way in Elizabeth's court. Leicester, Sussex, Hatton, and Heanage are all of the older generation as is the French Simier, and the younger generation has Essex and Raleigh.
  • Dead-Hand Shot Mary Tudor's death is portrayed with a close-up of her hands clutching a rosary, then going limp.
  • Demoted to Extra: Sir Walter Raleigh who does little more in the final episode but putter around the background and be present when Elizabeth dies. In real life he was as much a rival to Essex as Robert Cecil was (possibly more as they both competed to be court favorite while Cecil was a bureaucrat). He is also left out of most of the privateer subplot form the fifth episode which entirely focuses on Drake.
    • Elizabeth's household staff play very little parts after the first episode. Elizabeth's ladies in waiting were actually quite important to the court and Elizabeth was very protective of them and careful to arrange good matches. Lettice Knollys was actually one of her ladies in waiting, which is never directly acknowledged in the series (she was also Elizabeth's cousin, as Anne Bolelyn's grand-niece).
    • The Duke of Norfolk, Mary Queen of Scots' previous jailers the Shrewsburys and an entire plot (the Ridolfi Plot) before the Babbington plot are left out, bar one small mention of the Shewsbury's care as being where Babbington first saw Mary. The prior plot was why she was so closely watched at Chartley to begin with.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Invoked by two dwarfs Catherine de Medici hires to play bawdy versions of Elizabeth and Leicester, though they are merely performers looking to be paid.
  • Evil Matriarch: Catherine de Medici. Even her son can't stand her.
  • 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.
  • Feed the Mole: Dudley lets out a rumor that the Queen will marry the Archduke Charles. The Spanish Ambassador De Quadra learns this information and tells the Queen he will set in motion the marriage plans. Elizabeth mistakes this for presumption and angrily declares her intentions to not marry anyone. The Council is aghast at this setback; now their chances to interest the Queen to marriage have been dashed. They realize Dudley's culpability in this.
  • 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. Probably done because it would have been impossible for the actress to accurately portray Elizabeth at the age she was when Thomas Seymour pursued her.
  • Fiery Redhead: Elizabeth, to the continual distress of her courtiers. Unlike her father, though, she can hold her temper if it's expedient to do so.
  • Five-Man Band: Elizabeth's council:
    • The Leader: William Cecil, Lord Burghley, as the chancellor
    • The Lancer: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the closest to Elizabeth personally
    • The Big Guy: Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex, able to appeal to Elizabeth best in a crisis
    • The Smart Guy: Sir Francis Walsignham, the spymaster
    • The Heart: Hatton and Heanage, two more courtiers who mostly serve to back up the others.
  • 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.
  • The Fundamentalist: Walsingham for Protestantism, causing conflicts with the more moderate Elizabeth and Cecil, especially over the matter of Elizabeth potentially marrying a Catholic prince.
  • General Failure: The man Philip appoints head of the Armada after the previous commander dies is certain he will be this, citing that he runs orange groves and has no military experience.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: More like hysterical cop and calm cop, but serving the same purpose with Kat Ashley as the over the top Hysterical Woman and Elizabeth as the calm an collected princess, with Kat's over the top emoting and scolding serving as a deliberate counterpoint to Elizabeth's reasonable words.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Babbington's Drawn-and-Quartering is implied by a blood-splattered crucifix lying on the scaffold.
  • Got Volunteered: The Earl of Sussex is made to confront Elizabeth and change her mind when she sends Dudley to the Tower for marrying behind her back, even though it is known he does not like the man, because Hatton has failed already, Walsingham is unlikely to do better, and Cecil doesn't want to.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Dudley deals with this when Elizabeth is being wooed by a French Duke and it seems to be very serious. He is very obvious about it.
    • Elizabeth over Dudley in return. When he marries behind her back she jails him for it.
    • Philip of Spain towards Elizabeth, jealous of how the Pope considers her a heretic and yet considers her a great ruler, often disparaging Philip in comparison.
  • Honor Before Reason: Cited by Cecil as his reason for warning Mary of Northumberland's plot. While it would benefit him if Mary went into a trap, as she is Catholic while Elizabeth would be a Protestant ruler, the right thing to do is follow the Act of Succession.
  • Hope Spot: Discussed by Paulet, the jailer of Mary Queen of Scots. He notes she is to be arrested while she is out riding, and wonders if she may initially misconstrue the guards coming to arrest her as Babbington and his men coming to free her.
  • 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.
    • Elizabeth tries to point out to Mary that during Edward's reign, Mary was not punished for refusing to give up the Catholic faith, in an attempt to sway her sister to do the same for her. Mary is baffled, pointing out her faith is the correct one and therefore of course she should not have been made to give it up like Elizabeth should.
  • Hysterical Woman: Kat Ashley plays this to the hilt in the first episode, often going into over the top histrionics when Elizabeth is in the tower. Probably invoked, as she uses this to voice things that Elizabeth (a political prisoner for much of the episode) cannot—such as accusing the warrant for Elizabeth's execution to be illegitimate, which it was—and to make Elizabeth seem more reasonable when Elizabeth gently scolds her for her actions and rephrases the commands as requests.
    • Elizabeth's sister Mary also has her moments, particularly when she finds out that Philip has had mistresses and bastards.
  • Informed Flaw: Robert Cecil was hunchbacked and is commonly referred to as such in the series. While his coats to have an odd cut to them, it's fairly clear his actor does not have a spinal issue.
  • 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.
    • Walsingham does this to Gifford, his inside man with Mary Queen of Scots. He admits he considers Gifford nothing but scum for being a Catholic who originally turned to Walsingham for protection and even pities Mary for having put faith in Gifford. This while Gifford is involved in a stage of the plot that puts him at great personal risk and has been loyally serving Walsingham so Walsingham may get the proof he needs!
  • 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.
  • Maid and Maiden: Elizabeth is quite close to her maid, Kat Ashley, who is a loyal servant and surrogate mother. Ashley even goes to the tower for Elizabeth in the first episode, though she is released.
  • Miles Gloriosus: John Savage. Unfortunately for Babbington, this was the guy he hired to assassinate Queen Elizabeth...
    • Essex as well, to the detriment of the Ireland campaign.
  • The Mole: Gilbert Gifford, in the Babbington Plot. While seeming to be loyal to Mary and aiding her communications with the outside world, he's really spying for Walsingham the whole time.
    • Babbington later tries to claim to want to be this for Walsingham among Catholics plotting treason to cover for his own plotting. Walsingham alreayd knows he's lying.
  • Mood-Swinger: Essex, as noted by his brother Henry.
    • Elizabeth herself.
  • Morton's Fork: Elizabeth has to deal with Catholics who want her deposed for being a Protestant, and Protestants who want her deposed because she's not hard enough on Catholics.
  • Off with His Head!: Mary, Queen of Scots; the Earl of Essex.
  • Oh, Crap!: Babbington's expression when being informed that his "news" for Walsingham, that the Priest Ballard is stirring up trouble, is not in facts news and Ballard is already in the tower, as Ballard was a key member of Babbington's plotting.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There are three Marys, Elizabeth's sister "Bloody Mary," Robert Dudley's sister who is a lady in waiting to Elizabeth, and Mary Queen of Scots. There are also several Roberts, though this is less obvious due to most of them going by their titles or surnames instead (Dudley/Leicester, Essex, and Cecil) though that still leaves a chance for Robert Cecil to be confused for his father, William Cecil (who by then is thankfully often referred to as Burghley, a title Elizabeth did not bestow upon his son). There are two Thomases (Seymour and Wyatt) in the first episode.
  • The Peeping Tom: Prince Philip of Spain in the first episode, peering in on Elizabeth and her ladies while Elizabeth gets dressed.
  • 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.
    • Dudley's outfits often involve some sort of fur cape or trim.
    • Subverted with Essex. While he has a rather lovely fur cloak, in some scenes with it he wears it over disheveled clothes and looks a mess.
  • Romantic False Lead: Dudley until the death of his wife causes scandal that would prevent Elizabeth from wedding him anyway.
    • The Duke of Anjou, who while not interested in Elizabeth physically does get along with her fairly well and is perfectly happy to meet all her other demands regarding religion and other matters. Only Elizabeth's paranoia of marriage compounded by the council's indecision over the match prevent it from occurring.
  • 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.
  • Smug Snake: Elizabeth often profits from having such people as enemies.
    • Mary Queen of Scots greatly overestimates her own political acumen. Her attempts at gloating come across rather strangely since she never really has the upper hand and is entirely within Elizabeth's power.
    • Letice Knollys, Elizabeth's cousin who has an affair with Dudley and eventually marries him. For this she is banished from court, but remains smug about it well into her later years, seemingly thinking her son Essex is due far more than he deserves while gloating over how she took Dudley from Elizabeth.
    • Essex himself often falls here, thinking he is far more in control of almost every situation than he actually is.
    • Philip of Spain in the Armada episode, utterly certain of victory even as his own men warn him of extra considerations that must be taken into account that he is all too happy to ignore.
  • Succession Crisis:
    • Engineered by the Duke of Northumberland after Edward's death by disinheriting both Mary and Elizabeth, Edward agreeing in order to prevent the Catholic Mary from taking the throne (while Elizabeth was a known Protestant, legally it would be impossible to declare Mary a bastard without it also applying to Elizabeth) and giving it instead to Lady Jane Grey who was conveniently married to one of Northumberland's sons. Undone when the people rise for Mary and overthrow the forced regime.
    • A fear of both Mary and Elizabeth's, since if Mary dies without children then her "heretic" sister gets the throne, while if Elizabeth does it falls outside the Tudor family completely and goes to the Stuarts (Mary, later her son James). Averted in the end as while Elizabeth never declared a successor, Robert Cecil and other had been setting things up with James behind her back as her health worsened, to ensure a smooth transition of power. It probably helped that James, unlike his mother Mary, was not Catholic.
  • Time Skip: The episodes skip between the main events of Elizabeth's reign. The first and second are closely connected while the third takes place some years later to Elizabeth's courtship by Anjou. The Fourth episode is the most egregious about it, as it focuses on Mary Queen of Scots when last we'd heard of her she had just married Lord Darnley (near the end of the second episode) and we then cut to over a decade later where Darnley had been murdered, Mary forced to marry the Earl of Bothwell and then fled him and her country for England where she has been a prisoner ever since. There is also implied to be some years between the fifth and sixth episodes, given the conditions Elizabeth and Burghley are in by the latter.
  • 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...
  • Token Evil Teammate: Richard Topcliffe comes across as this. He is a professional torturer, after all.
  • Token Good Teammate: Sir Henry Bedingfield, during Mary's reign. He is made Elizabeth's jailer at Woodstock after the execution of Thomas Wyatt, but is deeply offended by the suggestion that he is taking Elizabeth away to be assassinated. While he follows his orders it is clear he is doing so because they are his orders, not from any sort of malice. This is fairly concurrent with historical record, where Elizabeth considered him "trusty and well beloved" after her ascension to the throne and granted him a manor.
  • 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.
    • Mary Queen of Scots is very easily convinced that the nobleman she has just met is on her side, and never doubts his plan to supposedly smuggle out her letters. He was a spy for Walsingham the entire time (which she might have been clued into by the fact that her jailer considered the man "well trusted"!). Her actions in general while imprisoned are especially jarring as Elizabeth was in a similar situation during Mary Tudor's reign and only survived by displaying very different behavior.
    • Babbington, quite possibly the worst possible mastermind for a plot to ever exist. Priest Ballard, as well, for choosing him to mastermind it.
  • The Unfavorite: Although he is supposed to be Catholicism's champion, Philip II feels the Pope treats him like this in comparison to Elizabeth, preferring the heretic Queen's courage and wit over his timidity and dull piety.
  • Universally Beloved Leader: Invoked by Elizabeth, who works to keep the goodwill of the people and is often rewarded for it.
  • We ARE Struggling Together:
    • Elizabeth's council. Cecil is the calm, cautious, mediating influence; Walsingham is a militant Puritan who advises strong action; Leicester is less zealous than Walsingham with the added bonus of being very jealous over Elizabeth; and Sussex, Hatton, and Heanage are either rivaling Leicester or siding with Cecil. Or both. But all of them want Elizabeth to keep reining and England to prosper.
    • The younger generation has Essex against Cecil's son and Sir Walter Raleigh, with the latter two coming out on top due to Essex's volatility dooming him.
  • 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.