50 thoughts on “Queen Elizabeth I in Movies & TV

  1. Elizabeth I from “Sir Francis Drake” from 1960s reminds me of Queen Alexandra with the mini crown and dripping pearls/diamonds. I’ve seen too many photos of royals wearing those in the 1900s.

  2. The Virgin Queen (2005)- just looking at that picture makes my head hurt. So they went to all the trouble of putting her in a decent costume and then left her hair down? Aargh! I hope you had some cocktails while you were writing this, Trystan. We appreciate your sacrifice.

    1. She’s posing for the Rainbow Portrait in that scene, so the hair down is actually correct! (Or, semi-correct – it was still partially up in the original portrait, but some was hanging loose too.)

    2. Yeah the hair down doesn’t look good or appropriate in this particular scene, I agree with you Natasha Rubin. Eventhought QEI has her hair hanging down in the “Coronation Portrait” from 1600 (by an unknown artist) that hangs in the Nat. Portrait Gallery in London.
      There QEI was being portrayed as still a young lady.
      In this she looks too old to have her hair down. It’s like they forgot about her hair all together😏

      And as for the hair being down in the “Rainbow Portrait”…that shouldn’t be used as a real basis for any portrayal of her in any movie. Because that is an allegorical painting of QEI and not meant as being “real”. In such allegorical or
      mythological paintings woman (in all Art through the Centuries) are often portrayed with their hair down, even when other hairstyles were the norm in fashion.✌🏻

      1. But if you’ve seen the series, she’s literally posing for the Rainbow Portrait when she wears that costume. They’re not taking that look and portraying her wearing it in her everyday life, just while sitting for the painting, and she actually discusses the symbolism she wants, including having her hair loose (by that point in the series she’s shown wearing it up typically).

        So it seems reasonable to me that even though it was allegorical painting, it was probably painted from life and she was probably styled accordingly when she sat for it, including elements like the hairstyle which were different from what she ordinarily wore.

  3. The Simpsons!Elizabeth seemed more authentic than some other examples of cinematic liberties.
    I have seen some two year old boys who look pretty much similar to the allegedly three years old E-I in Ao1000D.The same petulant judging-you-for-inaccurate-princess-seams expression.Kids look so cute in period clothing.

  4. I actually saw a few episodes of the ‘Sir Francis Drake’ tv show in the mid ’60s – we were living in the Caribbean, and odd British re-runs turned up sometimes on the one local English-language station. I recall the ship, and the actor who played Drake, but not a thing about QEI.

  5. So many versions of Queen Elizabeth I that I’d never heard of here! Thanks for being so thorough with this post and finding so many different iterations of her – fascinating to see them all.

    I think my favorite version has always been, and probably will always be, Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. It has to be! The actress is already so familiar and iconic in our eyes, so nice parallels there with QEI being famous and iconic to her subjects. Plus Dench brings so much snark and deadpan humor to the role, which I think the real QEI was actually known for. That’s gotta be my favorite version.

    1. Yes!!👏🏻I love Dame Judi Dench older (awesome snarky: “…these Plays are played for ME…” & “…don’t wear my name out…” 🤣👌🏻) portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, as well. Just like Vanessa Redgrave’s & Helen Mirren’s QEI 👍🏻.

  6. I salute your efforts in tracking down and recording all these appearances. I hope you have plenty of pink drinks on hand for recuperation.

  7. If you’re looking for the Upstart Crow episode you can find it on BritBox through Amazon Prime. Definitely watch the whole series, it’s a hoot!

    1. Ohhhh I wish I had BritBox 😔. Saw ‘Upstart Crow’ when it first premiered on the BBC. Would love to see it again – so funny 👏🏻.

  8. Oh man, kudos to the incredible effort it must have taken to put this together! QEI is in SO MUCH MEDIA, and I can only imagine how much time and effort it took to not only put this list together, but watch so many and at least get some information about the others.

  9. I do wonder about the barometer of accuracy here, though – like, Anne of the Thousand Days is described as having “minor inaccuracies but nothing huge” while MQoS 1971 is “wildly inaccurate”, but I would have said they’re pretty comparable in terms of accuracy. MQoS 1971 has the fictionalized meeting between Elizabeth and Mary (as does pretty much every MQoS movie), but AotTD has a similarly fictional meeting between Anne and Henry before her execution. MQoS fudges some details of Mary’s relationship with Bothwell to make it more romantic, while AotD incorrectly portrays Henry breaking up Anne’s betrothal so he can have her to himself. Both overall stuck pretty close to the facts, from what I recall. If I’m forgetting some glaring inaccuracy in MQoS 1971 that makes it much worse, that’s my bad, but otherwise I’m not really seeing a huge difference in accuracy here.

    1. Obviously, it’s my barometer ;) And as a MQoS superfan w/a bookcase full of biographies, I’m a particularly harsh critic of every filmed version of her life (see my previous guide to MQoS onscreen). The 1971 flick features TWO meetings between MQoS & QEI who famously never met (even tho’ Mary requested such a mtg endlessly), makes Mary’s kidnap & rape by Bothwell into the love of her life, oh & throws in Darnley & Rizzio as gay lovers for kicks. AotD adding a convo between ppl who had already met & talked plenty of times is hardly a big deal, & Henry breaking up Anne & Percy is at least in line with his historical character.

  10. I had no idea there were so many adaptations of The Prince and the Pauper.

    I feel like the latest MQoS does Elizabeth really dirty and I’m still salty about it.

  11. The 16th century is also my happy place, which can lead to the occasional weird moment. I went to see “Elizabeth” with a college student nephew at a cinema in the middle of a local university. So, lots of academics around.
    I winced at each twisted subplot (Marie DeGuise!!!, the French prince arriving twenty years too soon, etc., etc.) but when they came to the scene where Cecil tells Elizabeth that Dudley is married himself I burst out:
    “She knew he was married. She went to his wedding!”
    Nephew will no longer attend period movies with me.
    (And yes, I know Dudley concealed his second marriage as long as he could but the movie only gives him one wife.)

  12. Dear Trystan,

    This was a wonderfully informative and enjoyable piece! Looks like a lot of work.

    Thank you so much.

  13. As you can see from her portraits Elizabeth had a long, pointed face with high cheekbones, long bumpy nose and wide, thin lipped mouth. Painters who wished to flatter her minimized the mouth and added fullness to the face. Like her mother she had enormous eyes, probably brown or golden hazel. She resembled Anne in feature but had Henry’s fair skin and reddish blond hair.
    She was not conventionally beautiful but she caught the eye and mesmerized. Like both parents she had charisma.

    I write all this to explain why I dislike seeing conventionally beautiful actresses cast as Elizabeth, like Margo Robbie. You want a woman with more character than beauty in her face and tremendous presence, like Flora Robson, or best of all Glenda Jackson. Cate Blanchett, though beautiful has the character and presence. Helen Mirren has completely corned the market on playing powerful women of history for a reason. I didn’t like Anne-Marie Duff at all, she seemed colorless. Laoise Murray had the unconventional but attractive angle down pat even if she was a very different type. Bette Davis and Dame Juldi Dench are all wrong physically but who cares! Bette Davis and Dame Judi can knock any strong woman role out of the park!

    1. Yup, & Bette Davis wasn’t a conventionally pretty woman of her time, but she even went the extra mile to make herself look more “unattractive” like QEI, which wasn’t common at the time (these days, both female & male actors will occasionally take “ugly” roles to show they’re “serious” aka on the hunt during awards season).

  14. The “Reign” Elizabeth makes me want to beat my head against a wall, The most badass Tudor of all reduced to a Barbie doll–yuck. I have fond memories of Mirren as E.T., but should watch it again to make sure. (Also of Irons as Leicester; he and Mirren make a believable middle-aged couple.) By the way, “Young Bess” is not based on a romance novel but is the first of a fine trilogy by Margaret Irwin about E.T.’s girlhood and political education. Irwin is brilliant at conveying a sense of time and place; the books have an almost cinematic feel.

  15. I really need to watch Elizabeth R. Sounds amazing but I just haven’t plunked down and found/acquired it.

    The Oxford-Elizabeth incestuous lover thing in Anonymous is apparently a significant part of Oxfordian authorship promoter history, although not one they want to lead with, and not one every Oxfordian agrees with (of course). It’s covered in Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, a very interesting book I read earlier this year (like the author, I think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, but I didn’t really know the specifics of counter arguments.. or some of the weird elements like the incest theory held by some Oxfordians).

    1. There are probably some very interesting psychological reasons for some people’s wish to father a slew of bastards on Elizabeth, the less said about the incest the better.
      It is of course nonsense. Elizabeth life is exhaustively documented. Irs possible she wasn’t a virgin but she certainly never had a child.

  16. I was completely spoiled for other productions in my teens, by watching the BBC Elizabeth I with Glenda Jackson when it first came to American TV. It’s always been my benchmark.

  17. What a wonderful wonderful wonderful post! Thank you!

    I hope that you won’t mind me adding that PBS Great Performances has covered Maria Stuarda, by Donzinetti. I know that they are stage-stage costumes that must allow people to sing, but man-oh-man! They look wonderful! And with a Red Dress that you liked so well on Mary. (watch the trailer to see it on Mary–the landing picture has a different red dress on Elizabeth)

    I would LOVE to you know your thoughts!


    1. As I said above ‘no filmed versions of plays or operas’ & sure, that’s arbitrary, but like no docu-dramas, it gives some limits or this already super-long post would have gone on forever ;) I know there are dozens of filmed versions of Maria Stuarda, for starters!

      1. But the red dress!!!

        To the point: this post was fun fun fun! And of course you have to draw the line, somewhere. And 90s goth me definitely agrees with you about Reign.

        Thanks for bringing fun to the internets.

      2. Funny, because I wanted to reply again. The thing is, I read Shakespeare, and Marlowe, and Garcilaso and Rablais…but I didn’t “get” them until I started listening to Opera. The heightened emotions of opera helped me understand poetry and dramaturgy from hundreds of years prior.

        So I think that’s why I included Maria Stuarda. Yes, the red dress was everything you loved in your own reviews. And for me, personally, it helped click the whole episode–and its resulting artwork, in place.

        Thank you for all you do!

  18. My favourite is Elizabeth R with Dame Glenda Jackson. The costumes are TDF and deserve every award they won. Jackson conveys ERI’s wit, intelligence, political savvy and the late Sir Robert Hardy as Leceister is amazing and sexy.

    My second favourite is Elizabeth I with Dame Helen Mirren who is so poignant as the elder ERI. Then tied with this is Dame Judi Dench’s Oscar winning tour de force in Shakespeare in Love with Sandy Powell jaw dropping peacock gown.

    Upstart Crow is a scream. And well worth watching, especially if you loved Blackadder II

  19. For some reason, The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I – Red Rose of the House of Tudor has always stuck in my head as representation of young Elizabeth I like. I think because they obvious had a small budget and borrowed costumes but still made it work on the young actress. Of course I haven’t watched in years —- maybe I’d find the costumes horrible now.

  20. The Doctor Who episode with Shakespeare…
    Did they have that actress play Davros, too? Looks like the same face…

  21. Is this a typo?… Elizabeth’s life, in film especially, is often linked to Mary Stuart, or to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VII.
    not Henry Vlll?

  22. Wow, I’ve barely scratched the surface on QEI on screen! Based on the few I’ve seen: Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love was my favorite portrayal, and that’s also my favorite movie. I really enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth movies. Anonymous was totally ridiculous and fun–I enjoyed it as well as the double-bill of Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. Even though Helen McCrory is a talented actress, every second of Bill was so atrocious that it made me want to scratch my eyes out.

  23. You say about Blackadder II ” it’s a comedy and nothing is the least bit serious in the show, but all the characters wear proper kit from top to bottom.” But I read an interview about the first series in which I think it was Richard Curtis, the co-writer, said that they got medieval specialists to climb all overe the costume, props and sets to make sure that as far as possible everything – down to the beer mugs and the hens’ eggs in a bowl in the background (much smaller than now) was accurate for the period. As he said, you can’t be really funny about a historical period unless you paint a convincing picture of that period. That principle was carried right through the later series, and I’d say he’s right; that’s one of the things that makes them so funny.

  24. It’s all about the Dames for me – Dame Glenda, Dame Judi, Dame Helen, with honourable mentions to the wonderful Miranda Richardson and Quentin Crisp (in his own way proud to be a Dame.) I saw Elizabeth R while still at school – some of the cast carried over from the also-wonderful The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell. (Bernard Hepton will always be Cranmer to me.) Glenda wasn’t old, but aged superbly in that role.

    As for Ctae, I love her as Galadriel, but no, no, NO to her Elizabeth. Though I admit I am biased because they used my beloved Durham Cathedral (mostly twelfth/thirteenth century) as a Renaissance Palace and actually had her drooping all over the tomb of the Venerable Bede. The costumes are in such modern textiles and colours, too – I’ll swear there was some crystal organza in there somewhere.

  25. Are we sure that Emma Thompson wasn’t just stuck into the Elizabeth R Armada gown, but without the proper infrastructure….?

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