Mini-Series Review: “Elizabeth I” (HBO Films)

 

More than 400 years ago, an intelligent, independent-minded woman (Queen Elizabeth I of England) faced issues that we ladies still face: gaining respect in a male-dominated field (i.e. government), finding the right man to marry (who would also be acceptable to her people), and not-so-friendly relatives (Mary, Queen of Scots).  The British monarch (nearing middle-age in Part I this mini-series) is played by the truly regal Helen Mirren, who can be smart, tough, and vulnerable.  Her closest friend/long-time love is Robert Dudley, the dashing Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons).  In the Cate Blanchett film, Joseph Fiennes played the (young) Leicester.  Irons is probably one of the few actors capable of going head-to-head with Mirren.  They also look terrific as a romantic pair, and seem like intellectual equals.

 

 

Her closest advisors, Lord Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley, are pressing her to (finally) marry.  They think they have the man- the Duke of Anjou, heir to the throne of France; their union would unite Protestant England with Catholic France.  Thus, they could fight off Spain, a very formidable Catholic nation at that time.  (Religion was a part of government in Western Europe in those days.)  Elizabeth is not opposed to marrying and bearing children (she knows her duty), but who will be the man for her?  Leicester is jealous; he says: “No one could be close as we too, Bess.”  She explains that she must marry royalty, so he’s not a valid choice. 

 

 

Leicester is her friend, confidant, and… more (though she is still a virgin).  A doctor assures her advisors this is true, and that she can bear children.  The queen’s body belongs to the people, not only to her.  As the Queen readies to meet her (arranged) match, all the men around her look nervous.  Will the Duke convert, or be a “quiet Catholic?”  Will his temperament suit Elizabeth?  Meanwhile, she wonders if the Duke is handsome.  Some things never change! 

 

There is a fun scene on a boat where the Duke reveals himself; he came in disguise.  There is an instant spark of attraction between the pair!  Elizabeth is happily surprised, and ready to make the best of it.  After a few weeks of wooing, her “contentment” is marred by Leicester’s arrival.  Is he a jealous man only thinking of himself?  Or is he worried about his country’s future? 

 

It soon becomes apparent that her people are against the marriage as well.  Doesn’t she deserve love, just like anyone else?  Out of the blue, the French minister blurts out something about Leicester and Lady Essex, a recently widowed woman of the court.  Watch Mirren’s reaction- it’s terrific!  She only exposes Elizabeth’s true emotion in a quick burst then is the composed Queen once more.            

 

Then scene, where she sits looking over the marriage contract surrounded by her council, is even stronger.  The men fearfully eye the pen in her hand.  Mirren reveals the Queen’s (natural) longings as a woman before breaking down in tears.  But it is merely a brief outburst; she will sacrifice for her country.  After bravely dealing with personal disappointments, Elizabeth hears of a papal decree which causes her to fear for her life! 

 

 

If you’d like to know more, check out Elizabeth I.  In Part II of the series, the male lead is played by the gorgeous Hugh Dancy (as impulsive, ambitious Earl of Essex).  Despite the (big) age difference, Mirren and Dancy create great chemistry together.   I know it’s available at the Virgin Megastore (where I bought it this past winter) and at Blockbuster.  The total time is 211 minutes with two special features, one re: the filming and another about the life of the real Elizabeth. 

 

Below are portraits of the real Dudley, Anjou, and Essex (in case you were curious)!

 

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
 
Duke of Anjou
Duke of Anjou
The Second Lord Essex
The Second Earl of Essex

 

 

 

Classic Movie Review: “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Captivating, troubled, unpredictable, vulnerable- these words could describe Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, and the characters they played in this multi-Oscar winning movie. A Streetcar Named Desire was re-mastered and re-released in 1993; I have that 2-disc director’s edition of the film containing 3 minutes of extra/extended scenes and loads of special features.  (I love special features!)  

Blanche: I don’t want realism.  I want magic!

One of Hollywood’s most successful and controversial directors, Elia Kazan, was hand-picked by playwright Tennessee Williams for this film.  Kazan had directed the Broadway play, too; his body of work includes: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gentleman’s Agreement (starring Gregory Peck), East of Eden (starring James Dean; Marlon Brando tested for the part, too), and On the Waterfront (also with Brando).  All the major actors (Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden) had worked in theater.  Though Jessica Tandy was on Broadway, she wasn’t a big enough star, according to Warner Bros.  So, Vivien Leigh, who’d done the play in London, was brought on-board.

 

Stanley: Be comfortable. That’s my motto up where I come from. You gonna shack up here? Well, I guess I’m gonna strike you as being the unrefined type, huh?

Well-bred, well-educated Blanche DuBois (Leigh) travels (via train and streetcar, of course) from small-town Mississippi to visit her younger sister Stella (Hunter) in hot, crowded New Orleans.  Blanche, a sensitive woman, almost can’t believe to what depths her sister has sunk.  Stella and her husband make their home in a stuffy, run-down apartment in the French Quarter. Their rowdy neighbors/friends drink too much, gamble, and make noise around the clock.  But most shocking of all- Stella has married Stanley Kowalski (Brando in a star-making role).  Stanley is a crude, volatile, working-class man of Polish descent.  (There are derogatory remarks about his background, denoting the prejudice of that time.)  Blanche is definitely not shy speaking about Stanley’s faults!

 

Stanley: That’s pearls, Stella, ropes of ’em. What is your sister – a deep sea diver?

 

We realize quickly that Stanley resents the presence of Blanche (with her fine clothes, jewels, perfume, and criticism).  Perhaps he sees her as a threat to his relationship with Stella?  Blanche is herself nervous and guarding secrets beneath her genteel Southern belle facade.  (I won’t give you too many details!)  Stella senses something is wrong.  Why has Blanche come to visit before the end of Spring term?  (She’s a high school English teacher.)  How did she lose their family estate?  But Stella mainly wants to keep the peace in her home, because who knows what will set off her husband?

 

Stella and Stanley’s relationship is based on lust; this repulses Blanche (she calls it brutal desire).  

Stella: I wish you’d stop taking it for granted that I’m in something I want to get out of. 

 

Stella seems happy about her life while Blanche is in a precarious situation: aging (over 30) and nearly penniless.  Then, tall and quiet Mitch (Malden) takes an interest in Blanche.  Could Blanche find some happiness with Mitch? 

 

Mitch and Blanche

Mitch: I have never known anyone like you.

 

Brando, though not yet 30, is simply amazing in this film; you won’t be able to take your eyes off him!  Brando was considered “naturalistic” and “realistic”- an actor who broke the mold of leading man in the 1950s.  And because of his penetrating eyes, brooding face, and muscular physique, Stanley is both attractive and repugnant to us.  Stanley is a drunken brawler one minute, then a contrite and confused little boy the next.  There is “ambivalence” in Stanley and in Brando, as Kazan said, that makes us wonder at his motivations.  “Brando was a genius,” says Malden in a behind-the-scenes interview on the DVD.  Check out this movie classic ASAP!

      

You showed me a snapshot of the place with them columns, and I pulled you down off them columns…