By Charles Cassady Jr.,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Handsome, talky HBO miniseries with Helen Mirren.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Court life is complicated and messy; betrayal and manipulation are common, and characters switch loyalty at the drop of a hat (or clink of a coin). That said, Elizabeth's dedication to England is noble.
Positive Role Models
Not many movies are made about kindly, well-behaved, peaceful kings and queens. Elizabeth is mercurial -- passionate, poised, and witty, but also often moody and bitter. At one point she unleashes a reign of torture and executions against her supposed enemies (Catholics, mainly). Though under some circumstances she can hardly be blamed for not showing more grace under pressure. At the end of her life her bad choices seem to weigh heavily on her -- or do they? Her famous virginity is a constant theme but is rarely discussed directly; in a final scene she more or less declares her love for the British people over her own affairs. Her two main suitors, Essex and Leicester, don't quite love Elizabeth enough to not get other women pregnant, but the older Leicester seems to have widsom and humility more on his side. Only one of the Queen's advisors, the dwarfish Robert Cecil, seems immune to all the plotting and scheming at the court.
Violence & Scariness
Though it takes up just a small amount of screen time, it's pretty intense. There's a grisly scene of torture, with disembowlments and eviscerations of living men. A woman is decapitated by an executioner, not very cleanly and in ghastly closeup. A public hand-chopping-off is shown from a distance. There's an assassination attempt on the queen by dagger and a swordfight that draws blood. A man undergoes torture on the rack. Musket fire kills a number of men.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Intense smooching and cuddling with the queen, but it never goes farther than that. A couple of young, unmarried women are revealed to be pregnant. An opening credit scene shows Elizabeth being slowly, ritualistically stripped for what turns to be a gynecological exam (not explicit).
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The queen calls a character "a son of a whore." The term "bitch" is used as a double entendre.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Social drinking, talk of the quality of Ireland's whiskey.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's a brief but vividly gruesome scene of public torture and executions by disembowelment. There are also decapitations, in grim, blood-spurting close-ups. Queen Elizabeth's personal life and affairs are more important here than affairs of state (practically the same, in fact). An opening credit scene of the Queen non-explicitly undergoing a ritualistic gynecology exam might incite some questions.
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What's the Story?
ELIZABETH I begins in 1578, when Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) rules a country where Catholics and Protestants have become bitter enemies. After 20 years on the throne, Elizabeth is still unmarried in middle age -- though carrying on a longtime affair with the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons). Her counselors urge her to unite in matrimony with a French duke, but she is forced to terminate the plan because he's Catholic (even though she's come to love him). Seven years later the Catholic-vs.-Protestant schism has grown worse. The story follows Elizabeth as she makes the hard decision to execute her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots (Barbara Flynn), Britain defeats the Spanish fleet, and Leicester dies. Elizabeth's new suitor, Leicester's stepson, the dashing Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy) claims to love her, but goes too far by leading a doomed rebellion. Before being executed as a traitor, Essex declares he did it all for his love of the queen. In a climactic speech Elizabeth owns that her greatest love and devotion was for the English people, as opposed to any one man -- although growing old and dying unwed, she seems in private a little less majestic and more bitter about it.
Is It Any Good?
Mirren is majestic in the role of someone who still captivates the public imagination: a woman who had everything but set marriage and family aside in order to do her duty as a leader of a nation. Or was it more because all men around her were two-faced schemers with their eyes on the crown? It's hard to tell.
Elizabeth I is a very talky epic, and the script paints her in all shades, from the "Mum" who could inspire her subjects through crisis to a cloistered, uncertain woman who oversaw (or looked the other way) horrific executions and torture. Much is made here of the nationalism-driven hatred between Catholics and Protestants, a component usually overlooked in earlier tellings of Elizabeth's story.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why Elizabeth gives up personal happiness to hold onto her throne. Is it a lust for power? A sense of duty to the British people?
Could a story like Elizabeth's happen in today's style of government?
The film could open up a college semester's worth of tangents on British history, like the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the lineage of King Henry VIII, the Stuart Kings, and the inception of the Church of England.
- In theaters: April 26, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: August 22, 2006
- Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McDiarmid, Jeremy Irons
- Director: Tom Hooper
- Studio: HBO
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 211 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 28, 2022
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