Elizabeth I | British History Challenge: #16, #18A and #17

And almost as quickly as it began, we are coming crashing to the end of the Tudor Age with the rule of Elizabeth I, arguably one of the greatest rulers of these islands. But are the films great? Well… When last we left the action, Evil Queen Bitchy (Mary I) had disposed of Helena Bonham-Carter’s eyebrows and she now sits on the throne of England commanding a reign of unimaginable terror…

#16: Elizabeth (1998)

General Opinion: It’s entertaining and it’s got a nice vibe to it… But it’s just b**lo*s!

Review: First problem I have with this film is the now almost ubiquitous overview of what’s happening at the begging of the film. Instead of a voice-over or a star wars style segue we get rubbish looking, minuscule subtitles over a picture of Henry VIII. These rubbish subtitles continue unnecessarily throughout the film, highlighting places like the Vatican or the coast of England, stuff an intelligent audience could work out for themselves.

However, despite the minor niggle of the subtitles, this film does alright for itself. It has a magisterial epicness to it, even if much of it is closeted inside the walls of what mostly looks like a cathedral rather than a royal palace. The script itself isn’t too bad and it’s got a brilliant cast. Cate Blanchett is a good Elizabeth and  she’s supported by the likes of Geoffrey Rush as Walsingham, lurking in the shadows like some demented Nosferatu, Kathy Burke as Elizabeth’s predecessor, the evil Queen Bitchy, Richard Attenburgh playing William Cecil, Christopher Ecclestone as Norfolk. Even a young Daniel Craig struts his stuff as a papal assassin, even if he is credited next to Angus Deyton (No joke…). Even Eric Cantona (Yeah… Really… The footballer) manages to somehow do a good job… It makes for a well acted, really good, entertaining film…

Well… It would be good except for one thing. Like Braveheart it’s a hash up of history. Yes, it looks a bit more realistic, although there’s the palace looking like the inside of a Cathedral, and it’s actually based on real events… But that’s as far as it goes. The facts are missing and the writer has just cobbled together a nonsense, non factual, plot from out of his arse.  Events that took place years later are compressed and squashed whilst others are forgotten entirely. Like in Braveheart, the basic facts just aren’t there and it’s like they didn’t even check. Errors include: Robert Dudley’s wife (according to this Elizabeth knew nothing about her,) Robert Dudley turning traitor (that never happened,) Elizabeth shunning Dudley (Nope… Never happened,) Elizabeth shagging Dudley (Huh? Come on we’ve all heard the rumours about her not being a virgin… But where’s the evidence?) Walsingham personally poisoning Mary of Guise (again, never happened.) Worst of all the ending… Dear God… That doesn’t even come close to accuracy. There are much more besides. How hard is it really to pick up a history book and check out a few facts?

In all then, a good film completely ruined by a lack of accuracy. If you’re a brainless monkey though, it works.

Rating: 3/10- It looks good and it’s not a bad film… At least they’ve paid their dues to the actual history, unlike a certain other inaccurate film I could mention

18A: Gunpowder, Treason & Plot: Mary Queen of Scots

General Opinion: A boring one hundred minutes of drivel featuring Fleur Delacour and Andrew Flintoff…

Review: Ok… So it was Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) as Bothwell and not Andrew Flintoff… But this is so bad that it took me till nearly the end to work that fact out. (To be honest, I did wonder why a Lancastrian Cricketer was playing a Scottish nobleman.) The acting is so piss poor in places that, to be honest, I wouldn’t blame anyone else for thinking that this was the case. Take Mary’s accent. Alright… It’s obviously french, like it was supposed to be. Fair enough. But there are times when she attempts to put on a painfully dire and obvious Scottish accent, particularly when pronouncing SCOTLAND. The rest of the cast aren’t much better.

This isn’t helped by the dire and plodding script. I’d like to say something nice or pick out a memorable quote but it’s so bad that I can’t. It is essentially a badly written piece of garbage. The script just doesn’t flow like it ought to. Instead it just limps along whilst barfing on its own shoes every so often.

And then there’s the little matter of realism… Did the writers really think that every person that was imprisoned in late sixteenth century Scotland got thrown into a pit with some smelly tramp? Well they didn’t. That’s not the worst part though. The film depicts Elizabeth I as some of Machiavellian control freak, trying to direct Mary’s actions through her half brother… That’s an inaccuracy on a level that’s par with Braveheart. It’s just not right. The whole thing is a mess from start to finish and barely worth taking the time to watch.

Now… Braveheart was inaccurate and, in places, painful to watch, but it had entertainment value. This film on the other hand… No. It just wasn’t entertaining and it was certainly just as inaccurate.

Rating: 0/10- Unfortunately that’s only half of the story 😦

(The ratings for both parts of Gunpowder Treason and Plot will be averaged together at a later date)

#17: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

General Opinion: Very much like the first film, only with worse inaccuracies and a few moments which aren’t supposed to be hilarious but somehow are.

Review: One of the most famous moments in British hstory has been seriously botched. Every kid in the country grows up with the story that Francis Drake finished his game of Boules on Plymouth Hoe before going to defeat the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth made a famous speech at exactly the same time, possibly the most famous of her reign (besides ‘this is the lords doing, and it is glorious in our eyes,’ but that was more a comment than a speech!) We’ve all heard it:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

It’s in every film of the period. Even the Glenda Jackson version had the two sarky soldiers talking over it. This one, however, just omits it and replaces it with inane drivel whilst Cate Blanchett struggles to control her horse. What the hell? It’s a famous speech. Changing it is like doing a biopic of Winston Churchill and altering ‘we shall fight them on the beeches’ to ‘let’s go out there and kick Hitler back to Hell.” It’s ludicrous. And as for the Armada itself… Drake is there, at least. But he doesn’t do much. The film more or less removes his involvement entirely. His appearance is like a cameo whilst most of the credit for stopping the Armada goes to Walter Raleigh, which is a desecration as we all know it was Drake who did it.

Then there are those serious moments which are just hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Elizabeth shouting at the Spanish Ambassador about ‘commanding wind,’ the bit where she watches the Spanish Armada burn in her night-gown, and one perplexing bit where Eddie Redmayne runs in with a gun and shouts ‘whore’ at Cate Blanchett before promptly being dragged away again. Moments like these just detract from an otherwise serious film. Oh, and not forgetting the huge mountains in the middle of Northamptonshire… quite astonishing considering they aren’t even there… And the fact that all the Swedes have hair gel??? (Don’t ask me!)

This aside, the sets in this second film look far more realistic than in the first, far more palatial and fitting…Though it’s still far from perfect as much of the interior still looks like a cathedral more than anything else.

Cate Blanchett is perhaps better as Elizabeth here than she was in the first film. She’s older, wilier and more ruthless, much more how I would imagine Elizabeth to really be. Walsingham too is of a more appropriate age and he’s stopped skulking around in the shadows (which in some ways is a shame because that was one of the best bits of the first film). As for the rest of the cast… Well, they aren’t anything special. Richard Attenburgh as Burghley is conspicuous by his total absence from the film, Mary Queen of Scots is a bit weird and speaks with a Scottish accent, Philip of Spain wanders around like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Raleigh is just a suave git who gets more screen time than he rightly deserves.

Despite it’s many, many… many problems, it isn’t a totally awful film. It is watchable to a degree but like the first it only pays minimal dues to history, which is a shame. And the subtitles have gotten even more dodgy.

Rating: 2/10- Not as good as the first one and with even more fatal flaws.

And there we say goodbye to the six Tudors: Greedy, Fatty, Squeaky, Shorty, Bitchy and Ugly. I have seen rumours of a third Elizabeth Movie (wonder what they’ll cal it? Elizabeth: The Only Way is Essex perhaps? Suggestions welcome.) However, we can’t stand around waiting years for them to make it. Onwards to the Stuart age and total anarchy….


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