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Elizabeth I (Channel 4 2005, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons)

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Playing the ageing Virgin Queen might seem a tall order for the sexiest actress of the era but Helen Mirren is fantastic here and is actually the perfect person for the role with the men of the Royal Court drawn to her like bees around honey.

This brilliantly recreated two part drama starts at Whitehall Palace in 1579 with Elizabeth already having been Queen for twenty years and the court worrying that she may be getting too old to provide an heir which would lead to an inevitable civil war, an arranged marriage with Frenchman the Duke d’Anjou but the Earl of Leicester (a begoated and suave Jeremy Irons and who Elizabeth loves and has a clandestine relationship with) is convinced this would be a disastrous match however when she discovers that Leicester has actually betrayed her heart by marrying in secret and fathering a child she banishes him from her court, part 2 sees Elizabeth falling hard for the much younger Earl of Essex (newcomer Hugh Dancy) who is happy to use his relationship with the Queen to further his own place in court.

Mixed in with the tangles of Elizabeth’s relationships are all the political machinations of the Royal Court, the repelling of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and some genuinely gruesome death scenes. So used are we now to CGI effects that we expect them in everything we see and Elizabeth 1 is no exception with some very cleverly rendered outdoor footage.

production details
UK | Channel 4 | 2×100 minutes | 2005

Script: Nigel Williams,

cast
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth I
Jeremy Irons as Earl of Leicester
Ben Pullen as Sir Walter Raleigh
Charlotte Asprey as Frances Walsingham
Toby Jones as Robert Cecil
Diana Kent as Lady Essex
Simon Woods as Gifford
Ian McDiarmid as Lord Burghley
Ann Firbank as Lady Anne
Barbara Flynn as Mary Queen of Scots
Hugh Dancy as Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
John McEnery as Jesuit Priest
Patrick Malahide as Sir Francis Walsingham
Will Keen as Francis Bacon
Geoffrey Streatfeild as Sir Anthony Babington
Martin Savage as Stubbs
Douglas Reith as Judge
Toby Salaman as Dr. Lopez
Ewen Bremner as King James VI
Jérémie Covillault as Duke of Anjou
Eddie Redmayne as Southampton
Erick Deshors as Jean de Simier