I find the origin stories of famous historical figures to be fascinating. Knowing who they were before allows us to understand them as fully formed human beings, not just names in a textbook.
The new Starz series, Becoming Elizabeth, is the origin story of Elizabeth I of England. Then known as Elizabeth Tudor (Alicia von Rittberg), her world turns upside when her father, Henry VIII dies. Though it is her younger brother, Edward VI (Oliver Zetterström) ascends to the throne, neither she nor her elder sister Mary I (Romola Garai) are free from court intrigue. She must both deal with being a teenager and the very tricky politics of sex, religion, and power.
I am hooked so far. The young lady we are watching on screen is both ordinary and extraordinary. Her ordinariness comes from experiencing the same growing pains that we all went through at that age. The extraordinariness comes from being seen as nothing but chattel while using every tool at her disposal to survive. It is brilliant, it is entertaining, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Becoming Elizabeth airs on Sunday night on Starz at 8PM.
Seeing a woman in the halls of power is relatively new in the course of human history. At best, in the past, women have been help-meets, wives and servants. At worst, they are disposable to relegated the background of history.
The new movie, Mary Queen of Scots (based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy) takes place in the 16th century, when two women ruled England and Scotland concurrently. Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie) has successfully ruled England without questions of her legitimacy to the throne. The only issue that she is without a husband and a child. Her cousin, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) has recently taken her place as Queen of Scotland after the passing of her first husband. She knows that she has to marry and bring a male heir into the world, but she is not willing to marry for the sake of politics.
Both Mary and Elizabeth wish for peace between their kingdoms, but the men who council both Queens are not content to bow before women, nor are they willing to let two women maintain a political friendship. Around them, the seeds of discord are being sewn. Will Mary and Elizabeth rule their respective countries in peace or will the interference of the men around them result in upheaval and violence?
It takes a certain kind of BPD (British Period Drama) to appeal to a wide range of audience members. While Mary Queen Of Scots falls squarely within the BPD genre, it has a specific message that appeals to a certain kind of audience member. While I very much appreciate the timely message of women in power and how we react/treat them, this film is a bit on the heavy side when it comes to the narrative.
Biopics, especially those revolving around those that are no longer with us are tricky. The movie has to be entertaining, but it also has to be truthful to the history and to the person who is the subject of the biopic.
In 1998, Elizabeth, the biopic of Elizabeth I of England was released. Born in 1533, no one expected Elizabeth to one day become Queen Of England. Her father, Henry VIII, had her mother, Anne Boleyn, executed so he could marry wife number three, Jane Seymour. The film focuses on Elizabeth’s early years on the throne and the bumpy path she would have to travel to become the beloved and respected Queen that we know her today to be.
Cate Blanchett is one the best performers of her generation for good reason. Elizabeth is one of her earliest introductions to the American film audience. Her performance is nuanced, powerful and human.
I liked this book. Each of these women were brought to life in full color. They had different reasons for ruling. Some were the children of aristocrats and royalty, others married into the title and a third were women who led England until their underage sons and heirs to the throne were of an age to rule. My only criticism of this book is that the chapters about Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor seem a bit rushed, but other than that, I recommend this book.
In 1990, Antonia Fraser published The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War. The women whom she writes about come from different time periods and different parts of the globe. She starts the book with Boudicca and moving forward through time, the book ends with three modern female leaders: Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher. I liked this book. It is a history book that is not meant to be simply written and read for academic purposes. It is immensely readable. I especially recommend this book for young women who are looking for female role models who have stepped into positions of power.