×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Elizabeth I

This sweeping HBO-Channel 4 presentation features the kind of towering, "for your consideration"-worthy performance from Helen Mirren that almost defies conventional superlatives. Watching Mirren sinks her teeth into this role is a treat worth savoring.

With:
Elizabeth I - Helen Mirren Earl of Leicester - Jeremy Irons Earl of Essex - Hugh Dancy Lord Burghley - Ian McDiarmid Sir Francis Walsingham - Patrick Malahide Robert Cecil - Toby Jones Mary Queen of Scots - Barbara Flynn

Impeccably British for mostly good and a little ill, this sweeping HBO-Channel 4 presentation features the kind of towering, “for your consideration”-worthy performance from Helen Mirren that almost defies conventional superlatives. Somewhat plodding through its opening hour, “Elizabeth I” gains steam and then soars through its concluding installment — as Mirren’s tantrum-throwing queen becomes entangled with the much-younger Earl of Essex. Given the dearth of juicy material for, er, “mature” actresses, watching Mirren sinks her teeth into this role is a treat worth savoring.

Beginning 20 years into Elizabeth’s reign in 1579, Nigel Williams’ script finds the Queen being pressured to marry so that she can birth an heir, thus avoiding a bloody succession battle; and beset by Europe’s Catholic powers, who would topple her from England’s Protestant throne.

Her advisers, in fact, elbow her toward a strategic marriage to a French prince, as she realizes there’s no hope of elevating one of her subjects by wedding the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), who is not only her lover but her most trusted confidant.

Those matters are complicated, meanwhile, by the threat of war with Spain and potential for rebellion surrounding her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots (Barbara Flynn).

After the pope essentially issues a death warrant against Elizabeth, gruesome beheadings and torture thwart a plot to depose her. As for her private affairs, the conflicted Leicester eventually succumbs to illness around the time England scores its glorious victory over the Spanish armada.

Virtually on his deathbed, Leicester bequeaths his relationship with Elizabeth to his stepson, the Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy), roughly three decades junior to the by-now-fiftysomething monarch. Yet Elizabeth is so powerfully drawn to Essex that she flirts and fusses like a schoolgirl, prompting him to accurately note that she stares at him “as if you were deciding whether or not to eat me.”

Tom Hooper, who previously directed Mirren in “Prime Suspect 6,” indulges Williams’ penchant for long, theatrical monologues, which require a little getting used to in the slow early going.

Gradually, however, as with the best British costume drama, the narrative becomes absorbing. Mirren also proves more comfortable and intriguing as Elizabeth ages, going from a reliance on Leicester to a near-obsession with Essex — exploding into magnificent, electrifying rages whenever deprived of his affections. With due respect to Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” the age disparity here, and Dancy’s callow portrayal of Essex, make their relationship all the more fascinating, and at times a little creepy.

Mesmerizing as she is, Mirren is surrounded by a fine cast, including Ian McDiarmid and Patrick Malahide as royal advisers who can only roll their eyes at the queen’s romantic flights of fancy.

Nor does the word “sumptuous” quite do justice to this Lithuanian-shot production, which features a theatrical array of extras and sprawling sets as well as wildly baroque costumes, highlighted by Mike O’Neill’s spectacularly regal frocks.

Still, peel back the outward finery and this is ultimately Mirren’s show. And if she developed an appreciation for shiny baubles while sauntering around in those fabulous gowns and dropping third-person references such as, “We forbid you access to our presence,” there are surely additional ornaments to come.

Elizabeth I

HBO, Sat. April 22, Mon. April 24, 8 P.M.

Production: Filmed in Vilnius, Lithuania, by Company Pictures and presented by HBO Films in association with Channel 4. Executive producers, Suzan Harrison, George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Nigel Williams; producer, Barney Reisz; director, Tom Hooper; writer, Williams;

Crew: camera, Larry Smith; editor, Beverly Mills; music, Rob Lane; production designer, Eve Stewart; costume designer, Mike O'Neill; casting, Doreen Jones. 4 HOURS

With: Elizabeth I - Helen Mirren Earl of Leicester - Jeremy Irons Earl of Essex - Hugh Dancy Lord Burghley - Ian McDiarmid Sir Francis Walsingham - Patrick Malahide Robert Cecil - Toby Jones Mary Queen of Scots - Barbara Flynn

More Film

  • Yesterday Movie Danny Boyle

    Danny Boyle on 'Yesterday,' Leaving 'Bond 25' and Why the Beatles Still Rock

    Danny Boyle would like to reintroduce you to the Beatles. The iconic foursome certainly needs no introduction, but in his movie “Yesterday,” which debuts June 28, the director envisions a word where nobody has heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo. That is, nobody besides Jack Malik. When the struggling songwriter, portrayed by newcomer Himesh [...]

  • Svensk Filmindustri SF Studios logo

    Warner Bros, SF Studios Expand Distribution Deal Across Scandinavia

    Warner Bros. Pictures has expanded its distribution deal with SF Studios to include Sweden and have their movies released by the Nordic major through all of Scandinavia. Warner Bros. Pictures already has a distribution pact with SF Studios in Denmark, Norway and Finland. Under the partnership, SF Studios has been handling the sales, marketing and [...]

  • Nicole Kidman Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman to Star in Ryan Murphy's 'The Prom' at Netflix

    Ryan Murphy enlisted a star-studded cast for his upcoming Netflix movie “The Prom,” an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, James Corden, Ariana Grande, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells are among the A-listers bringing “The Prom” to screens. “The Prom” follows a lesbian student in the fictional conservative town of [...]

  • Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Vaclav

    Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Václav Havel Biopic

    Viktor Dvorak has been cast in “Havel,” a biopic of Václav Havel, as the Czech playwright, dissident and national leader. Anna Geislerova, who starred in Oscar nominated “Zelary,” plays his wife, Olga Havlova. Jiri Bartoska, the president of Karlovy Vary Film Festival, will appear in the film as “Professor,” inspired by Czech philosopher Jan Patocka. [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    'Bond 25' First Footage Sees Daniel Craig Back as 007

    After suffering a series of setbacks, including finding a new director and Daniel Craig’s on-set injury, “Bond 25” production is officially underway. A new behind-the-scenes clip of the upcoming James Bond film features Craig and helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga at work in the Caribbean. The minute-long footage didn’t reveal much about the still-untitled movie, though [...]

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    ‘Roma,’ ‘The Good Girls’ Top Mexico’s Ariel Academy Awards

    The Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences hosted the 61st edition of their Ariel Awards on Monday evening, where Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls” stood out among the winners. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cuarón’s “Roma” scooping best picture is that it’s only the second of his films to [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Already Pulled From Shanghai Festival, 'The Eight Hundred' Cancels Its China Release

    Already pulled from its prestigious spot as the opener of the Shanghai International Film Festival, war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been dealt a further below with the cancellation of its scheduled release in China next week. In a terse announcement on its official Weibo account, the film said late Tuesday that, “after consultation between [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content