Elizabeth: An Example Of Dramatic License
The film Elizabeth, directed by Shekhar Kapur, was released in the US in November of 1998. It was based on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1558 to 1603. The director and producer of this film uses their dramatic license liberally throughout the entire motion picture and if the moviegoer was not a history buff, he or she would not know (Levin 1).
?England 1554. Henry VIII is dead. The country is divided. Catholic against Protestant. Henry?s eldest daughter Mary, a fervent Catholic, is queen. She is childless.
The Catholics? greatest fear is the succession of Mary?s half-sister. Elizabeth.? The first few minutes included a very graphic sequence of three Protestants being burned at the stake. The Protestants all have their heads shaved and are praying to God in Latin. Throughout Mary?s reign, later known as Bloody Mary, people of Protestant faith were burned at the stake on her command. Catholicism was the religion of the country and Mary was deathly afraid that Elizabeth, a Protestant, would usurp her crown.
There are many historical inaccuracies throughout the movie; some are pure fiction while others are just slightly false. Queen Elizabeth I reined over England for forty-five years, the ?political intrigues with members of her court and the conflicts with Scotland, France, and Spain? (Levin 1) in the film have been compressed into a time span of about five years. Also, Elizabeth herself was portrayed as a ?weak and indecisive? (Levin 2) character when in fact she was a ?hardened and practiced politician who was not afraid of her power and knew how to use it. She was raised in the reign of her father, Henry VIII, learning only too well how dangerous even a slight personal or political mishap could be? (Gillett 1).
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Elizabeth was twenty-five when she was crowned Queen and in the film she is characterized more like a sixteen year-old.
Robert Dudley was a close and trusted friend to Elizabeth throughout her entire life. The film led to many misconceptions about her ?Lord Robert.? One is that they had a sexual relationship. Elizabeth and Robert did in fact have ?deep feelings of affection? for each other but Elizabeth never acted on ?childish passion.? In the film she and Robert were shown making love right in front of all her ladies-in-waiting. In reality ?Elizabeth lived and died a virgin.? There were spies everywhere that recorded in writing everything that went on in court. Nothing was kept secret and no one had any privacy, including the queen. Furthermore, Elizabeth?s virginity was of interest to everyone in the sixteenth century (Gillet 2).
In the film Robert Dudley was also found guilty of treason. This never happened. ?He was involved with the plan for Norfolk to marry Mary Stuart?and it was not, to begin with, a plot to kill Elizabeth. When it turned that way, Robert abandoned it immediately and told the Queen exactly what was going on? (elizabethi.org). Mid-film Elizabeth also finds out that Dudley is already married. In reality Elizabeth knows that Robert is already married because she attended the wedding. She did not care that Robert was married for his wife lived in the country away from court (Levin 5).
Francis Walsingham was a key figure in the film, yet not a key figure in English politics until the second decade of Elizabeth?s reign.
Along with that discrepancy, he also never traveled to Scotland to seduce and poison Mary of Guise, Elizabeth?s rival. The film also portrayed Walsingham as a homosexual, a scene early in the movie showed him slit the throat of a young boy, his supposed lover. Francis Walsingham was ?happily married, a very religious man? (elizabethi.org 2). Walsingham also lists, along with Dudley, Sussex and Gardiner as traitors. These facts are also wrong. Sussex was never a traitor and Gardiner was long since dead (Levin 6).
The list of inaccuracies goes on and on. In the movie the Duc d?Anjou came to discuss marriage with Elizabeth. He was a transvestite and was caught dressing up as a woman. In truth the Duc d?Anjou was a transvestite, only it was a different duke than the one who was in the film. The duke that proposed to Elizabeth was not a cross dresser and the Queen actually considered marrying him. Another small fact that is entirely not true is that the French ?did not send a poisoned dress to kill the queen, and none of her maids of honour were murdered? (elizabethi.org).
Sir William Cecil is also poorly depicted in this film. The main incorrect fact is that he was ?pensioned off with the title Lord Burleigh? during Elizabeth?s reign. William Cecil was ?only thirteen years older than Elizabeth was and, far from being pensioned off, his new title was a reward and a sign of how valued he was to the crown? (RMW 3).
Director Shekhar Kapur not only gets most of the history wrong but what he does get right, he only partially gets.
One of Elizabeth?s most famous lines, ?I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king? is delivered irritably, in a stony chamber, to a handful of anxious counselors. When in fact, she shouted this from horseback, wearing a silver breastplate, to her assembled troops (Miller 6).
Finally the costumes and the surroundings were also historically inaccurate. ?One dress had a bodice, neckline and sleeves belonging more to the Edwardian era than Elizabethan? (Gillet 3). The films interiors and exteriors represented what ?life would have been like possibly in the 12th or 13th centuries rather than the 16th.? (elizabethi.org 3).
It?s a shame that a movie that was artistically well done had so many factual flaws. From a historical standpoint it can hardly be called accurate. It is basically fiction with a little fact thrown in.
All of the actors did an amazing job, especially Cate Blanchett. She did a spectacular job portraying Elizabeth. Joseph Feinnes was equally convincing as Lord Robert Dudley, Elizabeth?s love interest in the film. The sparks were flying on screen and the chemistry was apparent. All in all this was a very good source of entertainment. What it was lacking in truthfulness it made up for in amusement. If one can get past the inaccuracies then it is a must-see.
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