Elizabeth (film)

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Elizabeth Poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Produced by Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Alison Owen
Written by Michael Hirst
Starring Cate Blanchett
Geoffrey Rush
Christopher Eccleston
Joseph Fiennes
John Gielgud
Richard Attenborough
Kenny Doughty
Music by David Hirschfelder
Cinematography Remi Adefarasin
Edited by Jill Bilcock
Distributed by Gramercy Pictures
Release dates
  • 8 September 1998 (1998-09-08) (VFF)
  • 23 October 1998 (1998-10-23) (United Kingdom)
Running time 126 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $82,150,642

Elizabeth is a 1998 biographical film written by Michael Hirst, directed by Shekhar Kapur, and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role of Queen Elizabeth I of England, alongside Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Sir John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant and Richard Attenborough. This 1998 film is loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth's reign. In 2007, Blanchett and Rush reprised their roles in the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, covering the later part of her reign.

The film brought Australian actress Blanchett to international attention. She won several awards for her portrayal of Elizabeth, notably a BAFTA and a Golden Globe in 1998, while the film was also named the 1998 BAFTA Best British Film. Elizabeth was nominated in 7 categories in the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress, receiving the prize for Best Makeup.

The film sees a young Elizabeth elevated to the throne on the death of her half-sister Mary I, who had imprisoned her. Her reign over the divided and bankrupt realm is perceived as weak and under threat of invasion by Early Modern France or Habsburg Spain. For the future stability and security of the crown she is urged by advisor William Cecil (Attenborough) to marry, and has suitors in the Catholic Philip II of Spain and the French Henri, Duc d'Anjou. She instead embarks on an affair with the wholly unsuitable Robert Dudley (Fiennes).

Elizabeth must counter threats from within such as the powerful 4th Duke of Norfolk (Eccleston), and from the armies of Mary of Guise (Ardant) garrisoned in Scotland. She also faces plots from Rome directed by Pope Pius V (Gielgud). Assisted by her 'spymaster' Francis Walsingham (Rush), she puts down the threats both internal and external, ruthlessly executing the plotters. Elizabeth eventually ends her affair and resolves to marry nobody except England. The film ends with Elizabeth assuming the persona of the 'Virgin Queen', and saying: "I am married to England", initiating England's Golden Age.


In 1558, the Roman Catholic Queen Mary (Kathy Burke) dies of a cancerous tumour in her uterus, leaving her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) as queen. Elizabeth had previously been jailed for a supposed conspiracy to murder Mary but has now been freed for her coronation. The film shows Elizabeth being courted by suitors, including Henry, Duc d'Anjou (Vincent Cassel), the future King Henry III of France, whom she rejects, and urged by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (Richard Attenborough) to marry, which, as he states, would secure her throne. Instead, she has a secret affair with her childhood sweetheart, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes). The affair is, however, no secret from Cecil, who makes it clear that a monarch has no private life. Elizabeth deals with various threats to her reign, including Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston); her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who conspires to have her murdered; Mary's mother, Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant), who brings French troops into Scotland to attack Elizabeth's forces when they invade.

Elizabeth permanently banishes Dudley from her private presence when she finds out that he is married. Elizabeth feels that such relations could give a man too much power over her. Moreover, cutting off her relations with Dudley is part of the process by which she becomes increasingly tough and assertive, in one scene she carefully prepares and rehearses the speech she would deliver to a recalcitrant Parliament and force through her religious reforms, the Act of Uniformity. She also becomes capable of occasional ruthless behaviour as in unflinchingly ordering the execution of those who she considers dangerous to her rule. After Elizabeth's advisor Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) discovers Norfolk and De La Quadra plotting with King Philip, she orders their arrest and execution. Mary of Guise is assassinated by Walsingham, who acted on unofficial orders from Elizabeth. All this is a considerable change from the warm-hearted, rather romantic girl which Elizabeth was in the early parts of the film; remaining such would have been incompatible with being a queen who actually ruled and dominated the men around her, and her transformation is a major theme of the film. The film ends with Elizabeth having her hair cut by Kat Ashley (Emily Mortimer) and assuming the vanilla-faced and gowned persona of the 'Virgin Queen', and initiating England's Golden Age. She sits down on her throne, and the screen cuts to black.



The costuming and shot composition of the coronation scene is based on Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

This portrait "The Coronation of Elizabeth" was used as the basis for the photography and costume of Cate Blanchett during the coronation scene in the film. This is a copy of a now lost original, this copy attrib. Nicholas Hilliard

Cate Blanchett was chosen to play Elizabeth after Kapur saw a trailer of Oscar and Lucinda.[citation needed]

According to the director's commentary, Kapur mentioned that the role of the Pope (played by Sir John Gielgud) was originally offered to, and accepted by, Marlon Brando. However, plans changed when Kapur noted that many on set would probably be concerned that Brando would be sharing the set with them for two days. Later, when Gielgud had taken the role, Kapur at one point suggested (in vain) that the Pope's accent should be Italian; he added that every British actor within earshot was horrified that any director was asking Sir John Gielgud to speak in an accent that "wasn't John Gielgud".[citation needed]

A large proportion of the indoor filming, representing the royal palace, was conducted in various corners of Durham Cathedral—its unique nave pillars are clearly identifiable as such.[citation needed]


The film was received well by critics and the public, it holds an 82% 'fresh' rating on film aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 film critic reviews. The site's consensus was: "No mere historical drama, Elizabeth is a rich, suspenseful journey into the heart of British Royal politics, and features a typically outstanding performance from Cate Blanchett."[1]

Filming locations[edit]

  • Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland, England, UK (Princess Elizabeth is arrested with her followers)
  • Harrisburg, Australia
  • Raby Castle, Durham, County Durham, England, UK (river pageant)


Historical inaccuracies[edit]

The film takes many liberties with history for dramatic effect. Among them:

Inaccuracies in personal demeanor and relationships[edit]

  • The central theme of the movie is the rapid transformation of the romantic young woman to the austere Virgin Queen, a role which Elizabeth reluctantly assumes of her own volition in order to secure her position of power. In reality, the cult of the Virgin Queen was put into full effect after Elizabeth's last serious marriage proposal over 20 years after she became Queen. Elizabeth's failure to marry was portrayed as an act of self-sacrifice, which had kept England free from foreign entanglements.[3] In keeping with this artistic theme, Elizabeth in the film eventually ends all personal and romantic relationship, and maintains only her relationship with the Machiavellian character of Walsingham. The historical details of her life are manipulated, particularly her close personal relationship to Dudley, Cecil, and Ashley to be consistent with the artistic theme of the film.
  • At the end of the film, Elizabeth decides to shave her hair to look like a virgin. In reality, she never shaved or even cut her hair short. Later in her life, when someone entered her chambers not knowing she was still in bed, it was recorded that the queen's hair was "all about her ears".[citation needed] In the film, she is shown wearing a wig in the end, and though the real Elizabeth did wear one later in life, it was worn to hide the thin, sparse hair that was the result of her bout with smallpox.[citation needed]
  • In the film, Robert Dudley is Elizabeth's lover; however, though their relationship was romantic, it is not known for certain whether it was sexual.[4] In any case, as he was married a few years after the death of Henry VIII, Elizabeth would have knowingly been having sexual relations with a married man, but the film portrays her as ending her affair when she finds out that Dudley is married.
  • The film depicts Robert Dudley flirting and later having sex with Lettice Knollys. In reality, Lettice was married to Walter Devereux during this period, and while she did flirt with Dudley briefly, Lettice would return to her husband and give birth to many children, including Robert Devereux, Elizabeth's future favorite.[citation needed] In fact, any romantic relationship between Dudley and Knollys did not occur until at least 1573.[citation needed]
  • In the film, Kat Ashley is portrayed as Elizabeth's agemate and the relationship more of a friendship. In reality, Ashley was 31 years older than Elizabeth, her governess, and Elizabeth remained devoted to her until she died.[citation needed]
  • William Cecil was not even 40 years old when Elizabeth began her reign, contrary to his cinematic portrayal as elderly. He was not retired by the young queen, either. He remained one of her most trusted advisers until his death, shortly before hers.[citation needed]
  • Francis Walsingham was in his mid-twenties when Elizabeth was crowned, not a middle-aged man as he was portrayed by Geoffrey Rush. He was not sexually ambiguous, and his political prominence in the film was exaggerated.[citation needed] He was, however, a proponent of torture.
  • The Duke of Norfolk was a young man of 22 when Elizabeth succeeded to the throne and not, as portrayed in the film, in his mid-thirties. He was however 36 years old when he was executed in 1572.

Inaccuracies in Timeline[edit]

  • In the film, Queen Mary I dies at the end of a phantom pregnancy; in reality, Mary died three years after her phantom pregnancy of an ovarian cancer.
  • In the film, Elizabeth rejects Henry's suit in part because he is a bisexual transvestite; in reality, Henry is not recorded to have been a transvestite and rumours of his bisexuality may have been a smear campaign.[5][6][7]
  • The conspiracy of the Duke of Norfolk combines several events into one—in the film he is arrested and summarily executed for trying to supplant Elizabeth and marry Mary, Queen of Scots, to cement his hold on the throne. In reality, Norfolk was imprisoned in 1569 for trying to wed Mary, Queen of Scots, without permission, but was eventually released. He was then implicated in a separate plot in 1572 (three years later) to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne, for which he was then tried and executed. Contrary to his portrayal in the film as ruthless and powerful, he was actually a weak man, easily led and used by others.
  • In the film, Norfolk's plot to marry Mary, Queen of Scots is portrayed as happening in tandem with the Babington Plot; in reality, Norfolk was imprisoned for his involvement in the Ridolfi plot in 1569 and executed in 1572, 14 years before the Babington Plot.
  • In the film, Mary of Guise is poisoned by Francis Walsingham after Elizabeth rejects Henry's suit; in reality, Mary died of edema in 1560, nine years before Henry's suit.[8][9]

Inaccuracies in historical events[edit]

  • Mary of Guise was rumored to have been poisoned by an agent of Elizabeth, but evidence suggests that she died a natural death.
  • In the film, Robert Dudley converts to Catholicism and joins the plot against Elizabeth. In reality, Dudley was a life-long Protestant and remained a loyal confidant of the queen throughout his life.
  • In the film, a fictional courtship between Elizabeth and Henry, Duke of Anjou, is depicted. In reality, the two never met and the Queen of England was actually courted nearly ten years later by his younger brother Francis, Duke of Anjou when she was 46. The film also depicts Henry as Elizabeth's agemate; in reality, Elizabeth was 18 years older than Henry.
  • In the film, Henry, Duke of Anjou, is portrayed as Mary of Guise's nephew, spending time with her in Scotland after the rejection of his suit by Elizabeth and being present at her death; in reality, Henry never met Mary of Guise, and was in fact not related to her by blood. Henry's brother Francis was the first husband of Mary of Guise's daughter, Mary. Also, Mary of Guise belonged to the House of Guise, who were sworn rivals of the House of Valois, to which Henry belonged.
  • In the film, the ambassador of Spain, Álvaro de la Quadra, is assassinated in retaliation for the Babington Plot; in reality, de la Quadra died in 1564, 22 years before the Babington Plot.
  • The film also makes no mention of the fact that Norfolk was Elizabeth's cousin through her maternal grandmother Lady Elizabeth Howard.
  • Bishop Stephen Gardiner (Terence Rigby) died before Elizabeth came to the throne, and had no part in the Ridolfi plot.
  • The Earl of Arundel was not executed as shown in the film, but was confined to the Tower of London and died as a prisoner.
  • The Earl of Sussex was a loyal servant of the Queen and was neither implicated in the plot nor executed.
  • When Elizabeth is being questioned by her accusers in the beginning of the film at the Tower of London, the bishop suggests that the debate between Catholicism and Protestantism is what killed her mother, Anne Boleyn. This is not at all the case, for it was the (probably false) accusations of witchcraft, incest, treason and fornication between Anne and other noblemen that sent her to her death.
  • In order to guarantee passage of the Act of Uniformity, Walsingham locks up six bishops (including the dead Stephen Gardiner), securing the Queen's act, which won by five votes. No such incarceration took place. Also, bishops throughout the film are shown wearing black mitres, which is historically inaccurate.
  • The film depicts John Ballard as a co-conspirator of Norfolk in a fictionalised version of the Ridolfi plot; in reality, Ballard was considered the initiator of the Babington plot and was executed for his involvement in the same in 1586.
  • The film depicts Sir Thomas Elyot being murdered by drowning by John Ballard, who reveals Elyott had been passing information on Howard's actions to Walsingham; in truth, Elyot died in 1546 at his estate in Cambridgeshire.

Accusations of anti-Catholicism[edit]

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights accused the film of anti-Catholicism, stating that the film gives the "impression that the religious strife was all the doing of the Catholic Church", noting that the review in The New York Times considered it "resolutely anti-Catholic" complete with a "scheming pope" and repeating the charge made in the Buffalo News that "every single Catholic in the film is dark, cruel and devious".[10]



Elizabeth premiered in September 1998 at the Venice Film Festival and was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[11] It premiered in London on 2 October 1998 and it premiered in the United States on 13 October 1998.[11] It opened in the United Kingdom on 23 October 1998[11] and opened in limited release in the United States in nine cinemas on 6 November 1998, grossing $275,131.[12] Its widest release in the United States and Canada was in 624 cinemas,[12] and its largest weekend gross throughout its run in cinemas in the US and Canada was $3.9 million in 516 cinemas,[12] ranking No.9 at the box office.[13] Elizabeth went on to gross $30 million in the United States and Canada, and a total of $82.1 million worldwide.[14]





  1. ^ "Elizabeth". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  2. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0127536/locations
  3. ^ "The evolution of Elizabeth's image". 
  4. ^ Hume 1892–1899 Vol. I pp. 57–58; Wilson 1981 p. 95
  5. ^ Erlanger, Philippe (1935). Henri III. Paris: Gallimard. 
  6. ^ Le Roux, Nicolas (2006). Un régicide au nom de Dieu, l'assassinat d'Henri III (in French). Paris: Gallimard. ISBN 2-07-073529-X. 
  7. ^ Boucher, Jacqueline (1986). La cour de Henri III (in French). Rennes: Ouest-France. ISBN 2-7373-0019-3. 
  8. ^ Dickinson, Gladys, Two Missions of de la Brosse, SHS (1942), 171–177.
  9. ^ Loades, 53–54.
  10. ^ Elizabeth is "resolutely anti-Catholic" Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, January–February 1999
  11. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Release dates". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 October 2007. 
  12. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007. 
  13. ^ Weekend Box Office - November 27-29, 1998. Box Office Mojo. (8 July 2011). Retrieved on 8 August 2011.
  14. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007. 
  15. ^ "The 1999 Oscar Winners - RopeofSilicon.com Award Show Central". Ropeofsilicon.com. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "Awards Database - The BAFTA site". Bafta. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 1998". Bfca.org. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  18. ^ "Chicago Film Critics Awards - 1998-07". Chicagofilmcritics.org. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Awards IMDb
  20. ^ "The 1999 Golden Globe Award Winners - RopeofSilicon.com Award Show Central". Ropeofsilicon.com. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  21. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards". Nbrmp.org. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  22. ^ "Online Film Critics Society". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  23. ^ Academy Awards, USA IMDb
  24. ^ "Awards Database - The BAFTA site". Bafta. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  25. ^ Film Critics Awards IMDb
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ Golden Globes IMDb
  28. ^ Satellite Awards IMDb

External links[edit]