Elizabeth (film)

Elizabeth is a 1998 British biographical drama film written by Michael Hirst, directed by Shekhar Kapur, and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role of Queen Elizabeth I of England, alongside Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant, and Richard Attenborough. The film is based on the early years of Elizabeth's reign, where she is elevated to the throne after the death of her half-sister Mary I, who had imprisoned her. As her early years continue, she faces plots and threats to take her down.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byShekhar Kapur
Produced by
Written byMichael Hirst
Music byDavid Hirschfelder
CinematographyRemi Adefarasin
Edited byJill Bilcock
Distributed byGramercy Pictures
Release date
  • 8 September 1998 (1998-09-08) (Venice)
  • 23 October 1998 (1998-10-23) (United Kingdom)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$30 million
Box office$82.1 million[1]

The film was praised for its production values and the performances of the cast. Blanchett's performance brought her to international recognition, and she won several awards for her portrayal of Elizabeth, including a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. The film won the BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film and received seven nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Actress for Blanchett, winning Best Makeup. In 2007, Blanchett and Rush reprised their roles in Kapur's follow-up film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which covers the later part of Elizabeth's reign.


In 1558, Catholic Queen Mary dies of a uterine tumour. Mary's Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth, under house arrest for conspiracy charges, is freed and crowned the Queen of England.

As briefed by her adviser William Cecil, Elizabeth inherits a distressed England besieged by debts, crumbling infrastructure, hostile neighbours and treasonous nobles within her administration, chief among them the Duke of Norfolk. Cecil advises Elizabeth to marry, produce an heir, and secure her rule. Unimpressed with her suitors, Elizabeth delays her decision and continues her secret affair with Lord Robert Dudley this continues on however for longer than anticipated. During this Cecil appoints Francis Walsingham, a Protestant exile returned from France, to act as Elizabeth's bodyguard and adviser.

Mary of Guise lands an additional 4,000 French troops in neighbouring Scotland. Unfamiliar with military strategy and browbeaten by Norfolk at the war council, Elizabeth orders a military response, which proves disastrous when the younger, ill-trained English forces are defeated by the professional French soldiers. Walsingham tells Elizabeth that Catholic lords and priests intentionally deprived Elizabeth's army of proper soldiers and used their defeat to argue for Elizabeth's removal. Realizing the depth of the conspiracy against her and her dwindling options, Elizabeth accepts Mary of Guise's conditions, to consider marrying her nephew Henry of France.

To stabilize her rule and heal England's religious divisions, Elizabeth proposes the Act of Uniformity, which unites English Christians under the Church of England and severs their connection to the Vatican. In response to the Act's passage, the Vatican sends a priest to England to aid Norfolk and his cohorts in their growing plot to overthrow Elizabeth. Unaware of the plot, Elizabeth meets Henry of France but ignores his advances in favour of Lord Robert. William Cecil confronts Elizabeth over her indecisiveness about marrying and reveals Lord Robert is married to another woman. Elizabeth rejects Henry's marriage proposal when she discovers he is a cross-dresser and confronts Lord Robert about his secrets, fracturing their idyllic affair and banishing him from her private residence.

Elizabeth survives an assassination attempt, whose evidence implicates Mary of Guise. Elizabeth sends Walsingham to secretly meet with Mary in Scotland, under the guise of once again planning to marry Henry. Instead, Walsingham assassinates Guise, inciting French enmity against Elizabeth. When William Cecil orders her to solidify relations with the Spanish, Elizabeth dismisses him from her service, choosing instead to follow her own counsel.

Walsingham warns of another plot to kill Elizabeth spearheaded by the priest from Rome carrying letters of conspiracy. Under Elizabeth's orders, Walsingham apprehends the priest who divulges the names of the conspirators and a Vatican agreement to elevate Norfolk to the English crown if he weds Mary, Queen of Scots. Walsingham arrests Norfolk and executes him and every conspirator except Lord Robert. Elizabeth grants Lord Robert his life as a reminder to herself to never be blinded by romance again.

Drawing inspiration from the divine, Elizabeth cuts her hair and models her appearance after the Virgin Mary. Proclaiming herself married to England, she ascends the throne as "the Virgin Queen".



The costuming and shot composition of the coronation scene are based on Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Kapur's original choice for the role was Emily Watson, however she turned it down.[2] Cate Blanchett was chosen to play Elizabeth after Kapur saw a trailer of Oscar and Lucinda.[3] According to the director's commentary, Kapur mentioned that the role of the Pope (played by Sir John Gielgud) was originally offered to, and accepted by, Marlon Brando. However, plans changed when Kapur noted that many on set would probably be concerned that Brando would be sharing the set with them for two days. Later, when Gielgud had taken the role, Kapur at one point suggested (in vain) that the Pope's accent should be Italian; he added that every British actor within earshot was horrified that any director was asking Sir John Gielgud to speak in an accent that "wasn't John Gielgud".

A large proportion of the indoor filming, representing the royal palace, was conducted in various corners of Durham Cathedral—its unique nave pillars are clearly identifiable.[4][5]

Historical accuracy

The film takes considerable factual liberties and relocates several historic events, depicting them as occurring in the early years of Elizabeth's reign. Furthermore, the timeline of events prior to her accession is also inaccurate. For instance, the film depicts Mary I of England as being pregnant prior to Elizabeth's imprisonment. In actuality, Elizabeth was imprisoned on 18 March 1554 whereas it was not announced that the Queen was believed to be pregnant until September of that same year. Elizabeth was also released from the Tower of London in May, again, before Mary was thought to be pregnant. Mary's false pregnancy was not caused by a cancerous tumor or a tumor of any kind. Mary had another false pregnancy between the fall of 1557, and March 1558 that is not mentioned in the movie, and she died on the 17 November 1558, four years after Elizabeth's imprisonment in the Tower.

Elizabeth was put under house arrest at Woodstock, not Hatfield, but did not remain there until her sister's death. On 17 April 1555 she was summoned to Hampton Court to be with Mary during the Queen's delivery. When the Queen did not deliver, Elizabeth remained at court through 18 October 1555 until after it had become apparent that Mary was not pregnant and after the Queen's husband Philip II of Spain had gone abroad. It was only after this time that Elizabeth was finally able to return to Hatfield.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was also imprisoned in the Tower under suspicion of involvement with the Wyatt Revolt. However, he was imprisoned before Elizabeth. Dudley is also wrongly depicted as having been a co-conspirator in the plot against Elizabeth. In fact, he remained one of Elizabeth's closest friends until his death in 1588, long after their romantic relationship had ended.

Mary of Guise was not assassinated by Walsingham, but died naturally from edema on 11 June 1560.[6]

William Cecil, Baron Burghley was not an old man when Elizabeth began her reign, he was only thirteen years older than her. Likewise she never compelled him to retire, as is depicted in the film. He remained her chief advisor and was Lord High Treasurer from 1572 until his death in 1598. Similarly, the film depicts Cecil being given the title Lord Burghley before the Northern Rising of 1569. In fact, he was given this title two years after this in 1571.

Elizabeth began to paint her face white with lead pigment after she was left scarred from an attack of smallpox in 1563, not after the 1569 Northern Rising as depicted.

Although the idea of marriage to Henry, Duke of Anjou (who was actually not Mary's nephew but the son of Henry II) was briefly entertained in 1570, Elizabeth never actually met him and there is no evidence that he was a transvestite, as depicted in the film. It was his brother Francis, Duke of Anjou, 22 years younger than Elizabeth, whom she seriously courted beginning in 1578, when she was 45 years old and he was 23. At the end of the film, Elizabeth is shown as having decided permanently against marriage. In fact, she entertained the idea of marriage with several European monarchs well into middle-age. These included her former brother-in-law, Philip II of Spain, Archduke Charles of Austria, Eric XIV of Sweden, Adolphus, Duke of Holstein, and the Valois princes Francis and Henry (later King Henry III of France and Poland.)[7]



Elizabeth premiered in September 1998 at the Venice Film Festival; it was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[8] It premiered in London on 2 October 1998 and it premiered in the United States on 13 October 1998.[8] It opened in the United Kingdom on 23 October 1998[8] and opened in limited release in the United States in nine cinemas on 6 November 1998, grossing $275,131.[9] Its widest release in the United States and Canada was in 624 cinemas,[9] and its largest weekend gross throughout its run in cinemas in the US and Canada was $3.9 million in 516 cinemas,[9] ranking No.9 at the box office.[10] Elizabeth went on to gross $30 million in the United States and Canada, and a total of $82.1 million worldwide.[11]


Critical response

The film was well-received by critics. It holds an approval rating of 82% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews, with an average score of 7.28/10. The site's consensus reads: "No mere historical drama, Elizabeth is a rich, suspenseful journey into the heart of British Royal politics, and features a typically outstanding performance from Cate Blanchett."[12] Metacritic reports a score of 75 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

Accusations of anti-Catholicism

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights accused the film of anti-Catholicism, stating that the film gives the "impression that the religious strife was all the doing of the Catholic Church," noting that the review in The New York Times considered it "resolutely anti-Catholic" complete with a "scheming pope" and repeating the charge made in the Buffalo News that "every single Catholic in the film is dark, cruel and devious."[14]





  1. Elizabeth at Box Office Mojo
  2. Archerd, Army (17 February 1999). "'Jackie' thesp sez she's no 'Elizabeth'". Variety. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  3. "Arts: Her Brilliant Career" independent.co.uk
  4. "Elizabeth Film Locations". Movie-Locations. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  5. "Film & TV Locations". This Is Durnham. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  6. CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 389 and CSP Foreign Elizabeth, vol. ii (1865), 604, 29 April 1560.
  7. "The Tudor Age 1480-1603" Guy, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain; Ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, 266
  8. "Elizabeth (1998) – Release dates". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  9. "Elizabeth (1998) – Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  10. Weekend Box Office - November 27-29, 1998. Box Office Mojo. (8 July 2011). Retrieved on 8 August 2011.
  11. "Elizabeth (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  12. "Elizabeth (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  13. "Elizabeth Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  14. Elizabeth is "resolutely anti-Catholic" Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, January–February 1999
  15. "The 1999 Oscar Winners - RopeofSilicon.com Award Show Central". Ropeofsilicon.com. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  16. "Awards Database - The BAFTA site". Bafta. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  17. "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 1998". Bfca.org. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  18. "Chicago Film Critics Awards - 1998-07". Chicagofilmcritics.org. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  19. Awards IMDb
  20. "The 1999 Golden Globe Award Winners - RopeofSilicon.com Award Show Central". Ropeofsilicon.com. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  21. "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards". Nbrmp.org. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  22. "Online Film Critics Society". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  23. "Awards Database - The BAFTA site". Bafta. Retrieved 8 August 2011.

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