A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.