This miniseries is awesome. Helen Mirren’s performance is powerful, stunning, compelling. Supported by a stellar cast including Jeremy Irons (Earl of Leicester) , Hugh Dancy (Earl of Essex), Toby Jones (Robert Cecil) , Patrick Malahide (Sir Francis Walsingham) Simon Woods (Gilbert Gifford) , she is Elizabeth I.

The two episodes focus on one motif: “the hardest thing to govern is the heart”. So we see Queen Elizabeth Tudor in her most human feeble aspect: the search for true love, loyal relationships, friendship and tenderness. As proud as she was of her independence – she never married – and her power , she suffered for her being doomed to solitude. She was capable of sublime tenderness as well as defying acts, of falling deeply in love as well as of stately insults. Her sharp intelligence and sense of humor, her stubborness and refined education, her strength and her humanity made of her the Queen with the heart and the stomach of a king and one the most beloved sovereigns in history.

Part I deals with her troubled but close relationship with her old friend and loyal advisor, the Earl of Leicester . Their love/friendship survives her contemplating marriage with the relatively young and handsome Duke of Anjou,  a war with Spain, his secret (to the Queen) marriage to Lady Essex, his exile from court after her rage, her troubled "decision" to execute Mary Stuart. Jeremy Irons is incredibly good as Robin of Leicester.

My favourite scenes in Part I are
1. the moving farewell between the Queen and the Duke of Anjou. Mirren pronounces Elizabeth's lines from On Monsieur's Departure ( did you know the queen also wrote poetry?):

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,

I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,

For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.

2. the meeting between Elizabeth and her prisoner and cousin, Mary Stuart Queen of Scotland  in which Mirren pronounces a truthful line: "We are both prisoners of our time". Though this meeting has inspired fictional works, it never took place in real life. Friederich Schiller, for instance, imagined it in his tragedy Mary Stuart (1800).

Part Two follows Elizabeth through her later years, during which she has a passionate affair with the stepson of the Earl of Leicester, the much younger Earl of Essex, whose political ambitions frequently clash with his devotion and loyalty to the monarch. Elizabeth will suffer greatly for her weaknesses to the handsome fascinating Robin of Essex.

This series won Emmy, Peabody and Golden Globe Awards in 2006. In the same year Helen Mirren was also THE QUEEN , Elizabeth II , and dominated the Awards scene.
Among the historical inaccuracies, the screenplay explicitly mentions that Gilbert Gifford (Simon Woods) attempted to murder Elizabeth I by stabbing (in the first part of Episode One Leicester saves her life on this occasion). He is then seen being tortured and interrogated, but reappears in the second part of the episode to play his real historical part in the Babington Plot. This part of the episode even includes a scene where Gifford meets the Queen and she acknowledges him as the perpretator of the failed murder seven years before. The murder attempt never happened and, if it had, would inevitably have resulted in the perpetrator's execution.
I watched this two-part miniseries just yesterday and I'm so glad I did it. I was completely absorbed while watching it and ... it was rather dangerous ... Can anybody guess why?
I had seen and loved the two movies starring Cate Blanchett. She was brilliant. But Helen Mirren and the entire cast of this 2005 TV production surpassed my expectations.
Have you seen ELIZABETH I? Did you like it? If you haven't and love this historical figure as much as I do, you must get this DVD and watch it. 


Darcy said...

I did like Helen as an older Elizabeth, but my all-around favorite Elizabeth has to still be a tie between Cate Blanchett (phenomenal) & Glenda Jackson (breathtaking). Helen was really good but still can't hold a candle to those two. Have you seen Glenda's portrayal in the BBC series yet? This is Elizabeth done right and is definitely the most accurately portrayed.

Judy said...

I loved this mini-series, especially the first half where I thought Jeremy Irons was brilliant as Leicester - this isn't to say anything against the second half or the lovely Hugh Dancy, just that I thought Jeremy was even better. Helen Mirren was amazing throughout - personally I liked her performance in this much more than in 'The Queen'. Reading your review makes me want to watch this one again.

Luciana said...

I've not watched this yet, but I'll try to find it. I'm so fond of Elizabeth I that this is a MUST watch! I really like Cate Blanchett and Judy Dench in "Shakespeare in Love". Thanks for the review!

JaneGS said...

I loved it too and agree that it really shows the various aspects of EI well--longing for love, adept at wielding power, aware of her place in history and the role she was given, and fatally attracted to young, beautiful men!

Helen Mirren is an incredible actress--definitely one of my all time favorites and she is glorious in this role.

lunarossa said...

I love this adaptation very much. Helen Mirren is superb as Elizabeth and Jeremy Irons absolutely splendid. I wasn't so taken by Cate Blanchett, maybe because I find her version too "hollywood-related". Great you like it too. Ciao. A.

M. Gray said...

Oh my goodness, Maria, I can't keep reading your reviews. Now I HAVE to see this. How am I ever going to get any writing done??!

phylly3 said...

I would love to see this version of Elizabeth I.
Helen Mirren is such a splendid actress. I first noticed her in the movie The Madness of King George, and her work in the crime series "Prime Suspect" was always riveting.
I well remember Glenda Jackson's performance as Elizabeth, and I also enjoyed Cate Blanchett, but I am sure I would love Helen's version as well.
Also Jeremy Irons is a definite plus!