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HBO presents
Elizabeth I (2006)

"Great things hang on a kiss, Robin, when princes are involved."
- Elizabeth I (Helen Mirren)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: August 23, 2006

Stars: Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Hugh Dancy
Other Stars: Ian McDiarmid, Patrick Malahide, Barbara Flynn, Toby Jones
Director: Tom Hooper

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for adult themes, gore, violence
Run Time: 03h:20m:40s
Release Date: August 22, 2006
UPC: 026359333521
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB+ C

DVD Review

That Elizabeth I (1533-1603) remains a compelling figure 400 years after her death should speak plainly enough to her achievements and character; I'm not sure if there's a list ranking historical figures based on film appearances, but Elizabeth must be up there, with films ranging from Fire Over England, The Sea Hawk, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex to Orlando, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, and now this recent mini-series, titled simply Elizabeth I. Books continue to flow forth about "the Virgin Queen," and there's even a mystery series with her as the sleuth, presumably ferreting out murderers while running the nation. Elizabeth led England during a pivotal era, with the routing of the Spanish Armada and the flowering of the Renaissance defining achievements. And her choice of refusing a husband gives storytellers an easy way to try and get into her head.

At the start of the mini-series, Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) has ruled for 20 years, having ascended to the throne in 1558 following the death of her sister Mary I. In case you haven't boned up on your Tudor history, Henry VIII created the Church of England in 1534, severing ties with Catholicism after the Pope refused to grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This break with Rome led to Spain and France, both faithful Catholic nations, to ally against England in the years to follow, England now being an infidel nation of sorts. Mary I (1553-1558) had tried and failed to bring England back to the Church, and after Mary's death, Elizabeth cements England's Protestant status. Among Elizabeth's problems is urging from her advisers to find a husband, that she may produce an heir and stave off any chance of civil war amongst hopefuls to the throne. The difficulty however, in finding a suitable match when the best prospects are Catholic and want you dead complicates matters. Still, Elizabeth agrees to meet with the Duke of Anjou (Jérémie Covillault) in the hopes of making a suitable match.

The match falls apart however, and no one is more pleased than Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons). Leicester has loved Elizabeth for many years, though she spurned his proposal of marriage. They remain close friends, though he presses for them to be more. Eventually, he incurs her wrath by marrying, though her expectations of him to remain celibate like herself are obviously clueless. He eventually regains her affections after seven years of banishment from court, and he immerses himself again in the politics of the realm, only to die after the triumph over the Spanish Armada. Now in his place comes his stepson, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy). The relationship between Essex and the queen had a bit more spark to it, ending rather badly for Essex. Still, we see its full arc here, with the young and handsome earl becoming Elizabeth's new favorite, as she slowly faces the reality of her eventual death without having ever had a true relationship. Essex tests her far more than Leicester did, as Essex lacks the wiles of his stepfather. The young man is rash and roguish, incurring the queen's wrath but just as easily her forgiveness for his various transgressions. In the end, his own insecurities and weaknesses cause his doom, and Elizabeth demonstrates her own ruthless nature where her throne is concerned.

The problem with this series is not Elizabeth; Mirren is excellent and the character is written well. The problems, as I see them, are two. The first is the Earl of Leicester, who is underwritten. Irons has little to do, though he is enjoyable as ever to watch. The other problem is the simple procession of events, given the timespan of the film. Covering a significant number of years, it's often unclear how much time has passed, and sometimes the events themselves are somewhat confusing, particularly if you're unfamiliar with the period. Still, any interested viewer will probably be able to muddle through without excessive difficulty. There are the usual inaccuracies for the sake of story; Elizabeth, it is generally agreed, never met Mary, Queen of Scots, and so on. But not having them meet doesn't make for exciting viewing, so let's give them a pass on that one. After all, if you're getting your history from movies in the first place, there's a problem beyond what any film can do. Regardless, this is handsomely made, well-acted, and well worth the time.

One last note: for the squeamish, please note that the gore level is rather higher than your Masterpiece Theatre-esque shows; graphic beheadings and (literally) gut-ripping torture are on hand here in a handful of scenes.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the video quality has a layer of grain that takes some getting used to on a larger monitor; watching on a smaller screen showed a much more attractive picture.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishno

Audio Transfer Review: The English 2.0 mix is suitable, being that this is mainly dialogue-oriented; the track is clean and without any obvious failings.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The extras, housed on disc two, are of the basic promotional variety. The first is The Making of Elizabeth I (00h:17m:19s), which is comprised of interviews with the principal cast and crew, as they gladhand the film and its merits. Interesting, but nothing of major note here. The other is shorter, but more interesting; Uncovering the Real Elizabeth I (00h:07m:36s) features an academic opinion on the queen and how she was portrayed in the film, to (obviously) positive acclaim. It at least has something more interesting to say than basic EMK blurbage.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Elizabeth I is the sort of role any actress would love to play; she's a strong and fascinating character. Helen Mirren does her full justice here, and the sweep of English history flows according to her whims. The two-disc set from HBO is packaged attractively and does a solid job of presenting the film.


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