I had seen Helena Bonham Carter in another film and thought she was quite wonderful, so I decided to give it a try. Well, it became one of my favorites and my fascination with the historical figure of Lady Jane, as well as the events immediately preceding and following her death, became almost an obsessive interest.
When visiting London just a few months before my 17th birthday, I found the site, in the shadow of the Tower Bridge, where Lady Jane was executed. I took pictures, feeling an almost reverence for the spot of her, well, martyrdom. I've often wondered how much of the love story between she and her husband was real, and how much was imagined. The following year, my two best friends went on the same tour (one of whom had gone with me as well), and I stayed home licking my wounds for a week and a half. One of those friends brought me a print of this painting from London's National Gallery:
I was deeply touched that he would even remember my near-fettish with the subject matter and I carried the print with me everywhere I went for years before having it framed. (A few of you have probably seen it in my house.) It always makes for interesting conversation when new people come to visit.
In my early 20's, I was speaking with my mom's brother who has a deep and a abiding love of all things English and is extremely well-read. He is a real scholar of British history, particularly the Tudor Period. He told me that our genealogy had been traced back to that era and an exciting discovery had been made. My mother's maiden name is actually an Americanized version of the rare surname Fitzpen. "Fitz" was added to a last name to denote bastard royal lineage. The first Fitzpen was actually a child of, you guessed it, Henry VIII.
His revelation didn't really shock me, instead, it was more of an affirmation of my fixation with this British era of weak, lustful men and powerful, disciplined women.
This is the background I took into my viewing of Elizabeth: The Golden Age late last night. It is a good film. Or maybe a mediocre film with a great performance. It is hard to say. Cate Blanchett is really an incredible, believable Elizabeth. The movie, however, was a little disjointed and fuzzy. The final Armada action sequence, which has been building up the entire movie, was confusing and quick. I believe the director was trying to create a portrait of Elizabeth moreso than focus on the Armada, but it was a bit anti-climactic. Maybe the reality was too. As I viewed the film, many parts of the story seemed totally improbable to me, but my later research (I spent an hour on the Internet after watching the movie) showed that much of the story was accurate (even the armor-wearing pep-talk to the troops). I actually wish I had done the research first, instead of after. I would probably have been less distracted by aspects of the story and would have been able to put things in better context.
One of the most contrived parts to me seemed to be Elizabeth's love-of-my-life attitude toward Walter Raleigh. While it seems true that he was favored by Elizabeth for a time, she really was in her mid-fifties when Raleigh was at court (the movie never says, but Blanchett's Faerie Queen is hard to accept as older than 40 or 45). Also, she was, for many years, most greatly attached to the man she had made her Master of Horse. (Who, incidentally, was Lady Jane Gray's oldest brother-in-law. Hmm . . . what do they say when your family tree doesn't branch? Apparently, he was thrown off as a traitor in the first film, so he could not re-appear in this one.)
The next bit won't make much sense unless you have seen the film, so be warned. The director did a good job of juxtaposing Bess with Elizabeth, although there are times (like the way they always wear the same colors, just slightly different shades), it seems a little forced. By the end I was like, "Okay! I get it! Bess is Elizabeth's alter-ego, leave me alone!" Their relationship opens up questions of power, loyalty, the desirability of marriage and freedom. The movie portrays the queen as forgiving Bess and Walter Raleigh's indiscretion very quickly--for England, and because she needs her own forgiveness, and even offering a blessing on their child when he is just a few months old, but the reality is not as pretty. Queen Elizabeth stayed angry for a long time, and Raleigh was imprisoned for as long as five years. Bess, as his wife, was in exile with him. She gave birth under severely impoverished circumstances and the baby died when he was less than six months old. The movie makes it seem that Bess and Raleigh will travel together to the New World and live the life that Elizabeth wishes she could have had. Again, the reality is much starker, more difficult.
The reasons that Elizabeth never married have never been clearly pegged by historians, and the movie makes great use of legend to give motivation. Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth is strong, too strong to allow room for any other person in her life. She needs no support and is complete without any spouse. Historical sources tell us that the reason may have been less modern feminist, and more sexual abuse suffered as a child at the hands of the couple who were supposed to be her protectors.
Anyway, I was fascinated by the reading I did last night and if you get a minute (yeah right), I think the link above is worth visiting, as well as several of the connected articles. It is true that the sources are Wikipedia sources (not perfect), but they are well cited and several different articles seem to mostly repeat the same information. Or, if there is no time to read, next time you are looking to rent a movie that is smart and interesting and well-acted, this would be a great pick. (I'm thinking of getting the first tonight, hubby is out of town, though the content doesn't seem to be quite as tame.)
So, famous relatives? Historical interests?