Queen Elizabeth I in Movies & TV

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While we’ve gotten close, we have not actually covered every film and TV representation of Queen Elizabeth I of England yet. Much as Kendra has her 18th-Century Quest, I have my own low-key mission to watch and review every movie and TV show about Mary Queen of Scots (done) and QEI (almost there) because, as I’ve said, the 16th century is my happy place, at least when it comes to historical costume onscreen,

Elizabeth’s life, in film especially, is often linked to Mary Stuart, or to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. When she gets her own movies, they try to drum up drama over the virgin queen’s alleged love life — because even a powerful female ruler is nothing if she’s not mooning over a man, according to the patriarchy. Or sometimes, Queen Elizabeth shows up as a bit player in a pirate or adventuring story.

Before we dive into the many versions of Elizabeth onscreen, let’s review some of the major iconography of Elizabeth herself. There are dozens of portraits made during her lifetime, and a few seem to be particularly influential for movies and TV.

For depicting Lady Elizabeth or Princess Elizabeth at the court of Henry VIII, keep this portrait in mind. The gown is the earlier typically “Tudor” style, distinct from what was worn during Elizabeth’s own reign.

1547, portrait of Elizabeth I when she was princess, attributed to William Scrots

1547 – Princess Elizabeth, attributed to William Scrots

Once Elizabeth is crowned in 1559, there are a variety of images and fashion styles to choose from. The early- to -mid-reign looks are common, with the puffy sleeves, close-curled hair, and tons of bling. Elizabeth was known to favor all black or all white gowns, or sometimes deep red shows up in portraits, so these are common onscreen. Only a few productions venture into the distinctive wheel-farthingale gowns of the 1590s.

1573 - Queen Elizabeth, Pelican portrait, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

1573 – Queen Elizabeth, Pelican portrait, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

1583, Elizabeth I, "Sieve Portrait" by Quentin Metsys the Younger

1583 – Queen Elizabeth, Sieve portrait by Quentin Metsys the Younger.

Some productions do attempt to recreate specific, well-known portraits, with varying levels of success.

1575 - Darnley portrait of Elizabeth I

1575 – Queen Elizabeth, Darnley portrait, unknown artist

Queen Elizabeth I, Armada Portrait

1588 – Queen Elizabeth, Armada portrait, unknown artist

1592 – Queen Elizabeth, Ditchley portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

And there are elements of portraiture that are likely symbolic and weren’t actually worn, but some movies or TV shows try to recreate anyway.

1600 – Queen Elizabeth, Rainbow portrait, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

 

 

Queen Elizabeth in Movies and TV

Note: I’m being exhaustive but not ridiculous in my listings here! I refuse to include docu-dramas / documentaries with reenactments, for one. I will include fiction, even science fiction, because it’s fun, but no filmed versions of plays or operas. I’ve tracked down as many obscure TV shows as possible but a whole heck of a lot are simply lost to the mists of time, so don’t @ me about it. Ditto for non-English-language productions because I can only find what I find.

 

 

Les amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912), aka The Loves of Queen Elizabeth

Sarah Bernhardt in Les amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912)

QEI: Sarah Bernhardt
Historical accuracy, plot: This silent film starts around the Spanish Armada and focuses on Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. The whole thing can be viewed on Wikimedia Commons and YouTube, but the title cards are such poor quality, I couldn’t follow any plot. Meh.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Bernhardt is wearing more of an Edwardian tea gown with a standing ruff than anything legit Elizabethan. The other women in the cast are dressed more early 17th century, while the men are either Renaissance or medieval. But it’s very elaborate-looking!
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I’m sure it was impressive for it’s day, but I couldn’t make my way through the whole blurry thing online.

 

 

Der Favorit der Königin (1922) aka The Favourite of the Queen

The Favourite of the Queen (1922)

QEI: Hanna Ralph
Historical accuracy, plot: I found a film-festival description of this movie saying it’s set in 1590s London and about a doctor performing illegal autopsies who gets entangled with the queen’s lover, Lord Surrey. Sounds entirely fictional and kinda weird.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Hardly any pix are around, but this one, and, well, at least they’re wearing ruffs.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Pass.

 

 

The Virgin Queen (1923)

Diana Manners in The Virgin Queen (1923)

via Alamy Stock Photo

QEI: Diana Manners
Historical accuracy, plot: Per IMDB: “A Lord save the queen from a countess’s assassination plot.” I got nothin’ else.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Pretty, but a couple decades too early for Elizabeth’s reign.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Let’s say not.

 

 

The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots (1923)

The Loves of Mary Queen of Scots (1923) - Ellen Compton

QEI: Ellen Compton
Historical accuracy, plot: Per IMDB: “The Dauphin’s widow weds a lord and is executed for plotting against the queen.” That’s a terse summation of Mary Stuart’s life there. One assumes that Queen Elizabeth shows up sometime in the later half? No clue.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Really don’t have much to go on, and that image could be of MQoS. Why the unfortunate biggins?!?!
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Newp.

 

 

Drake of England aka Drake the Pirate aka Elizabeth of England (1935)

Athene Seyler in Drake the Pirate (1935)

QEI: Athene Seyler
Historical accuracy, plot: Per Wikipedia: “It depicts the life of Francis Drake and the events leading up to the defeat of the Armada in 1588.” But at least one poster changes the movie name and gives Queen Elizabeth top billing, so I really have no idea what this flick is about.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Well, they’re in the right general period, I’ll give it that.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Meh.

 

 

Mary of Scotland (1936)

Mary of Scotland (1936)

QEI: Florence Eldridge
Historical accuracy, plot: Highly romanticized when it comes to Mary Stuart. Also, Mary and Elizabeth meet the night before MQoS’ execution, such a trope! Mostly this flick is about Mary’s romantic entanglements, but the portrayal of QEI is decent, showing her as the more politically minded of the pair.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Surprisingly good for the period. Walter Plunkett was the costume designer, and the womens’ costumes clearly reference 16th-century images (see the Pelican portrait here?).
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I love this film, despite the inaccuracies! OK, I mostly love it for Katharine Hepburn‘s portrayal of Mary, but Florence Eldridge does a fine job as Elizabeth too.

 

 

The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

Gwendolyn Jones in The Prince and the Pauper (1937)

QEI: Gwendolyn Jones
Historical accuracy, plot: Zero, zilch, none! This is one of many adaptions of Mark Twain’s novel where Henry VIII’s son and heir, Edward Tudor, has a totally unrelated twin who’s poor, and they switch places. Hijinx ensue. In several versions, Lady or Princess Elizabeth shows up as a minor character.
Historical accuracy, costumes: I’m not even sure this picture is Gwendolyn Jones, but I couldn’t find pix of any women in the movie! The men’s costumes look standard-issue Tudor court garb though.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I have little patience for this story or any version of it.

 

 

Les perles de la couronne (1937), aka The Pearls of the Crown

Yvette Pienne in Les perles de la couronne (1937)

QEI: Yvette Pienne
Historical accuracy, plot: None! This is a French comedy tracing seven pearls in the English crown from Henry VIII to the modern day. Queen Elizabeth makes an appearance.
Historical accuracy, costumes: It’s not bad for a brief episode!
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Hardly, but it could be worse.

 

 

Fire Over England (1937)

Fire Over England (1937) - Flora Robson - black gown

QEI: Flora Robson
Historical accuracy, plot: This is a gorgeous production that plays fast and loose with the story of the Spanish Armada by adding a love story between fictional characters played by actual lovers Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. They try to steal the show from Flora Robson’s QEI but don’t, IMO, because she’s a bad-ass.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Like many ’30s frock flicks, the costumes have a veneer of historical accuracy layered in with as much fanciful trim, bling, decoration, padding, and shiny bits as possible. Some of these costume tropes show up in later Elizabethan-era movies, perpetuating costume fantasies, even if the actual costumes aren’t recycled. But it sure does look fabulous on film and especially in black and white!
Is it marvelous in our eyes? YAAAAAAASSSS!!!

 

 

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

QEI: Bette Davis
Historical accuracy, plot: Again, it’s the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (played by Errol Flynn), throwing in a fictional lady in waiting (played by Olivia de Havilland), to create a love triangle.
Historical accuracy, costumes: With Orry-Kelly as the designer, everything is rich and ostentatious, even if there’s an awful lot of princess seams in those gowns. But there are also period influences in the shapes and styling on the whole cast. Bette Davis even allowed herself to be aged for the role and shaved her forehead, all rather rare at the time in Hollywood.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Oh yes! It’s enjoyable as hell to watch and a feast for the yes.

 

 

The Sea Hawk (1940)

The Sea Hawk (1940)

QEI: Flora Robson
Historical accuracy, plot: This film is set right before the Spanish Armada. The story centers around a fictional privateer (played by Errol Flynn) who’s in love with the Spanish ambassador’s niece, who ends up as QEI’s maid of honor. Yeah, not likely!
Historical accuracy, costumes: It’s Orry-Kelly again, and I loves me some of that. The costumes are strikingly 1580s for the 1940s, and there’s even a nice nod to period Spanish costume.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? The plot is thinner than some of the other swashbucklers on this list, but it’s still a solid effort.

 

 

Das Herz der Königin (1940), aka The Heart of a Queen

Maria Koppenhöfer in Das Herz der Königin (1940)

via Almay Stock Photo

QEI: Maria Koppenhöfer
Historical accuracy, plot: The life of Mary Queen of Scots, with a helping of anti-British propaganda since QEI is apparently portrayed as a cold-hearted bitch, in this German film.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Decent for the times — that stock photo is a nice riff on the Sieve portrait, with contemporary makeup.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? No idea! Let me know if you’ve seen it.

 

 

Young Bess (1953)

Jean Simmons as young Elizabeth in Young Bess (1953)

QEI: Jean Simmons
Historical accuracy, plot: Well … the movie is as much based on a popular historical romance novel as it is on young Elizabeth’s possible romantic feelings for Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, who married her final stepmother, Catherine Parr. At least the movie shrinks the age difference between Elizabeth and Thomas to about 15 years so it’s a bit less inappropriate and turns the plot into unrequited love on Elizabeth’s side.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Walter Plunkett again, in princess-seamed glory, but with beautiful fabrics and trims.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Fair to middling, decent performances, nothing outstanding.

 

 

The Virgin Queen (1955)

Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I

QEI: Bette Davis
Historical accuracy, plot: Is it weird that this movie’s plot nominally starts 15 years after The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, which Bette Davis filmed 16 years earlier? No? That’s only me? OK, then. Here we get a love triangle between QEI, Sir Walter Raleigh, and “Beth” Throckmorton, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. While it’s true that Elizabeth was angry when Raleigh and Bess married in secret, no-one knows if that was because the queen was desperately in love with Raleigh herself.
Historical accuracy, costumes: With costumes by Charles LeMaire and Mary Wills, the look is more eye-poppingly technicolor than paying homage to any particular portraits. But the hair and makeup on Davis still looks solidly 16th century.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? If you only watch one Bette Davis Queen Elizabeth movie, I’d pick Private Lives over this.

 

 

The Story of Mankind (1957)

Agnes Moorehead in The Story of Mankind (1957)

QEI: Agnes Moorehead
Historical accuracy, plot: Per IMDB: “The devil and the spirit of mankind argue as to whether or not humanity is ultimately good or evil.” Apparently, they traverse time and take a peek at Queen Elizabeth I. Not historically accurate then.
Historical accuracy, costumes: This costume is recycled from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), so that’s as far as it goes.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Yeah, no.

 

 

Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962)

Sir Francis Drake (1961) - Jean Kent

QEI: Jean Kent
Historical accuracy, plot: 26 episodes on the life of Sir Francis Drake seems like A LOT to me, even if they’re only 30 minutes each. I bet there’s some fiction going on in there somewhere.
Historical accuracy, costumes: While the production apparently spent some money to recreate a version of Drake’s ship, I don’t see anything spectacular in the way of costumes.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I’m in no hurry to find out more.

 

 

Seven Seas to Calais (1962)

Seven Seas to Calais (1962)

QEI: Irene Worth
Historical accuracy, plot: Mixing Sir Walter Raleigh with the Babington Plot against QEI that helped get Mary Queen of Scots executed, this movie is as much a history lesson as The Tudors or Reign are these days.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Not terrible, not great, just so-so. This is fairly low-budget Italian production, going more for the sword-fighting than anything else.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I watched it so you don’t have to.

 

 

Elizabeth the Queen (1968)

Elizabeth the Queen (1968) - Judith Anderson

QEI: Judith Anderson
Historical accuracy, plot: Per IMDB: “In the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I (Dame Judith Anderson) is the ruler of England. Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex (Charlton Heston) is her lover, best friend, and worst enemy.” So maybe the plot is historical? Anderson was nominated for an Emmy, and this TV movie won for Outstanding Dramatic Program.
Historical accuracy, costumes: The silhouette looks fine, and I like the bling. However, Essex is wearing some thigh-high leather boots that are way more modern-pirate than 16th-c. period.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? This TV movie is a smidge before my time.

 

 

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969 - Amanda Jane Smythe

QEI: Amanda Jane Smythe
Historical accuracy, plot: The film has some minor inaccuracies but nothing huge, and Geneviève Bujold is probably the best Anne Boleyn onscreen. A young Elizabeth Tudor is shown towards the end, and after Anne’s death, her voice proclaims “My Elizabeth shall be queen, and my blood will have been well spent.” Does this look like a 3-year-old? I have no idea.
Historical accuracy, costumes: We love so much about Margaret Furse‘s costumes, except for the atrocious headgear. Let’s hope she didn’t design those.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Absolutely a delight to watch!

 

 

Elizabeth R (1971)

"Elizabeth R" - Darnley portrait recreation

QEI: Glenda Jackson
Historical accuracy, plot: Formatted as six 85-minute plays, the TV series covers Elizabeth’s life from 1549 during the reign of her half-sister Mary all the way to her death in 1603. It is exquisite in historical detail and brilliant dialog! Each episode focuses on a central theme, such as her relationship with Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, or the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, and gives it the care and depth that film treatments cannot (and later TV versions still haven’t). All with the utterly glorious Glenda Jackson, who is, bar none, the best Queen Elizabeth onscreen!
Historical accuracy, costumes: At least 200 gowns were made for the series, and designer Elizabeth Waller won a Emmy for her work meticulously recreating portraits of QEI — the Darnley, Phoenix, Armada, and Ditchley portraits, among others. And on a skimpy BBC budget using plastic gems and curtain fabrics, which maybe are more noticeable in today’s HDTV but the cut and shape of these costumes is still incredibly of the period. Check out our video on 16th-century costumes, the best, where we rave about how much we love these costumes.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? It is MOST marvelous!!! This is the best!!! Forever, amen!!!

 

 

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

Mary Queen of Scots - Glenda Jackson

QEI: Glenda Jackson
Historical accuracy, plot: Yet another romanticized version of Mary Queen of Scots’ life (is there any other kind?), complete with MQoS meeting Queen Elizabeth twice, first when MQoS first arrives in England, and again before the execution. But hey, Glenda Jackson plays QEI again, and that’s always a good thing!
Historical accuracy, costumes: With costumes by Margaret Furse, the look is mostly historical and very lush with some questionable fabric choices.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I’ve admittedly watched this one over and over again because it’s pretty and inoffensive even though it’s wildly inaccurate. Much like the Cate Blanchett flicks coming up on this list.

 

 

The Prince and the Pauper (1976)

The Prince and the Pauper (1976) - Nina Thomas

QEI: Nina Thomas
Historical accuracy, plot: Still more Mark Twain adaptions! Here’s Princess Elizabeth for ya.
Historical accuracy, costumes: This one’s a little different, in that the costumes are by James Acheson, who would go on to win Oscars for The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons, and Restoration. Plus, this image looks a lot like the portrait of young Elizabeth.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Sure, fine then. Anyone seen it and can say more?

 

 

Crossed Swords (1977)

Lalla Ward in Crossed Swords (1977)

QEI: Lalla Ward
Historical accuracy, plot: OMG, here’s another version of The Prince and the Pauper, thus Princess Elizabeth is a background figure.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Looks fine to me, other than a sticky-uppy French hood.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Not my thing.

 

 

Will Shakespeare aka Life of Shakespeare (1978)

Life of Shakespeare (1978) - Patience Collier, Getty Images

via Getty Images

QEI: Patience Collier
Historical accuracy, plot: Tim Curry stars in this 6-hour miniseries about Shakespeare, and maybe someday, I’ll break down and buy a set and watch the damn thing! It could be terrible or terribly fun, I honestly can’t tell.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Trying hard, that’s for sure.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Don’t know if this is worth searching for, opinions?

 

 

Jubilee (1978)

Jenny Runacre in Jubilee (1978)

QEI: Jenny Runacre
Historical accuracy, plot: Per IMDB: “Queen Elisabeth I travels 400 years into the future to witness the appalling revelation of a dystopian London overrun by corruption and a vicious gang of punk guerrilla girls led by the new Monarch of Punk.”
Historical accuracy, costumes: Surprisingly, this looks like a decent 1590s gown.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I probably would have enjoyed it more in college, but I bet it still holds some appeal

 

 

Drake’s Venture (1980)

Charlotte Cornwell in Drake's Venture (1980)

via Shutterstock

QEI: Charlotte Cornwell
Historical accuracy, plot: For a TV movie about Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world, I’m guessing Queen Elizabeth is only at the start or end of the story. No idea about the overall accuracy because it seems to have just aired once and no DVD was made.
Historical accuracy, costumes: This looks fine, floating ruff notwithstanding. I couldn’t find anything in color and without watermarks so it’s hard to tell.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Did anyone catch this one on TV?

 

 

Blackadder II (1986)

QEI: Miranda Richardson
Historical accuracy, plot: Um, not really. Queen Elizabeth is the only historical character of the main cast, though Sir Walter Raleigh appears in one episode and other historical figures, like Shakespeare, are referred to. But who cares, because the whole ridiculous thing is absolutely funny and wonderful!
Historical accuracy, costumes: Really good! Yes, it’s a comedy and nothing is the least bit serious in the show, but all the characters wear proper kit from top to bottom. And the outfits were custom-made for this show, as is apparent since Blackadder’s doublet has an elaborate snake embroidered on one sleeve.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Yes, oh so very marvelous! If you don’t LOL over this, we can’t be friends!

 

 

Orlando (1992)

QEI: Quentin Crisp
Historical accuracy, plot: Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, the story is entirely fictional. The first small portion is set around 1600, right before Queen Elizabeth’s death, where she meets Orlando and makes a final bequest.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Sandy Powell designed an insanely lavish and grand gown for Quentin Crisp to crossdress as QEI (thus mirroring Tilda Swinton‘s gender-bending Orlando character). Historically accurate stays and a wheel farthingale can be glimpsed in one scene.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? OH YES BABY YES.

 

 

The Prince and the Pauper (1996)

The Prince and the Pauper (1996) -Elizabeth Ann O'Brien

QEI: Elizabeth Ann O’Brien
Historical accuracy, plot: The latest BBC version. Here, Lady Elizabeth is forced into some of the palace intrigue, and it’s all on YouTube but I didn’t have patience for it.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Sure, looks fine. Nice version of the red gown in the young Elizabeth portrait, and no more sticky-uppy French hood.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? I am never going to watch more than the 2 minutes I already did.

 

 

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

QEI: Judi Dench
Historical accuracy, plot: Totally fictional plot that works themes from Shakespeare’s plays into his life story. But it’s sweet and romantic and funny and cute! And then Queen Elizabeth shows up and is all cool ‘n shit.
Historical accuracy, costumes: More Sandy Powell, winning an Oscar for this, because she is awesome! The silhouettes are great, and in various dressing and undressing scenes, we see late 16th-century stays, smocks, farthingales, and such. The trimming is lush and gorgeous. There are a range of characters, from scummy lower-class actors and ruffians to middling-class bankers to Queen Elizabeth’s court, and everybody wears garb appropriate to their station and that helps tell the story and build a world within the film.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Yes! Unless you’re dead inside.

 

 

Elizabeth (1998)

QEI: Cate Blanchett
Historical accuracy, plot: Ooo, boy, where do we start? The timeline is all fucked up, moreso than usual for a “historical” movie. The Mary of Guise plotline, while entertaining, is wildly inaccurate. There’s a ton of errors and omissions in the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley. A bunch of great actors doing sometimes interesting things that make for fun fiction, sure.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Alexandra Byrne‘s designs here are the epitome of a stripped-down, modern, “relatable” version of historical costume that bugs the shit out of me. The overall shapes tend to be quite accurate, but the garments lack the richness of detail that I associate with the period.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Pleasantly pretty and enjoyable to watch.

 

 

Academy Awards ceremony (1999)

Queen Elizabeth I costume by Bob Mackie.

QEI: Whoopi Goldberg
Historical accuracy, plot: Not applicable, this was just a walk-on!
Historical accuracy, costumes: Bob Mackie designed this gown for Whoopi to wear while hosting the ceremony and do a bit about the Elizabethan movies up for awards that year. This riff on the Armada portrait is made quite theatrically all in one piece that zips up the back so Whoopi could jump out of it fast backstage and into her next outfit. Very clever.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? It’s a fun example of QEI iconography!

 

 

Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004)

Catherine McCormack in Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot (2004)

QEI: Catherine McCormack
Historical accuracy, plot: This extremely shitty two-part miniseries is about Mary Queen of Scots and then James VI of Scotland / I of England, leading up to the Gunpowder Plot. Elizabeth is in the first half, but who cares, it’s fucking AWFUL.
Historical accuracy, costumes: None are apparent. See also, our video on 16th-century costumes, the worst.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? UGH, NO, BURN IT ALL DOWN.

 

 

The Virgin Queen (2005)

via BBC

QEI: Anne-Marie Duff
Historical accuracy, plot: This four-part miniseries covers Elizabeth’s life from before her coronation to her death, about the same timeline as Elizabeth R, but with less about the politics and more about her love life. There are minor historical omissions but no great deviations in the plot.
Historical accuracy, costumes: This BBC production doesn’t seem to have had a massive budget, and sometimes the skimpy fabrics and recycled costumes sometimes downgrade the look (this wired ruff is recycled from Orlando). But there’s a strong feel for the period and an attempt to show the progress of time through fashion changing.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? This one ranks right above the Cate Blanchett flicks for historical veracity alone.

 

 

Elizabeth I (2005)

QEI: Helen Mirren
Historical accuracy, plot: This two-part HBO miniseries starts later in Elizabeth’s reign, maybe 1570s or ’80s, and touches on her considering a French marriage, her execution of Mary Stuart, and finally the Essex affair. It’s a somewhat abbreviated history, but no great inaccuracies.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Visually, I feel like this is an heir to Elizabeth R, because, while it doesn’t recreate specific portraits, the costumes show a richness and level of detail not seen since. From historically accurate stays to hand-embroidered gowns, the costumes evoke the period unlike many of the contemporary productions.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Very much so!

 

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

QEI: Cate Blanchett
Historical accuracy, plot: A lot of this flick’s plot is milked from 1955’s The Virgin Queen, and that wasn’t the best QEI movie to begin with. The Babington plot and everything related to Mary Stuart is hugely fictionalized, and hey, so are a bunch of the details of the Spanish Armada. Much like it’s predecessor, this movie plays fast and loose with history.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Sure, we love seeing Cate in full armor on horseback delivering the Tilbury speech! There’s no evidence that happened, but it looks cool. Likewise, this movie is full of big, fancy dresses that are faintly connected to the 16th century, far more haute couture than historical.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Same as the first one, this sequel is just pretty and enjoyable to watch.

 

 

“The Shakespeare Code,” Doctor Who (2007)

Queen Elizabeth: Also not amused

QEI: Angela Pleasence
Historical accuracy, plot: The Doctor and his companion Martha arrive in 1599 near the Globe Theatre where they meet Shakespeare and eventually Queen Elizabeth. Of course, this is all fictional.
Historical accuracy, costumes: The 16th-c. costumes look alright, and this wired ruff is recycled from Orlando and The Virgin Queen.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? It’s not bad!

 

 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) - Maisie Smith

QEI: Maisie Smith
Historical accuracy, plot: At the very end, a young Elizabeth Tudor is shown frolicking about with the coda that, as Anne Boleyn’s daughter, she’ll rule longer after Henry’s short-lived son. That bit is true enough, but the movie has a ton of inaccuracies that stem from Philippa Fucking Gregory‘s novel.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Oh Sandy Powell, we love you, but so much about this flick’s costumes are a miss when it comes to Tudor. Except for that little girl running around, she’s fine.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? For entertainment value, I rank it below the Cate Blanchett movies.

 

 

“Four Great Women and a Manicure,” The Simpsons (2009)

The Simpsons (2009)

QEI: Selma Bouvier (voice by Julie Kavner)
Historical accuracy, plot: In one segment, Homer, as Sir Walter Raleigh, brings tobacco to Queen Elizabeth’s court. Which, sure, he’s often credited with, but the rest of this is silly fiction.
Historical accuracy, costumes: C’mon, it’s a cartoon, they’re doing the best they can.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? It’s kind of hilarious, though it’s just a short part of the episode.

 

 

Season 4, The Tudors (2010)

Laoise Murray in The Tudors (2010)

QEI: Laoise Murray
Historical accuracy, plot: The show, overall, has haaaauuuuuugggee faults when it comes to historical accuracy. In season 4, the appearance of Lady Elizabeth is fairly basic in that she appears at Henry VIII’s court on occasion.
Historical accuracy, costumes: HAHHHAAHHAHHAHAHA, not so much. I mean, Elizabeth here isn’t so bad, but everything else about this series is such muddled crap.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Aw hell no.

 

 

Anonymous (2011)

Anonymous (2011) Anonymous (2011)

QEI: Joely Richardson & Vanessa Redgrave
Historical accuracy, plot: Dear gods, this is a stupid movie! It’s predicated on the idea that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays, and Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, did, plus he slept with Queen Elizabeth, who was his own mother. It’s fucking lunacy and one of the most preposterous and frankly annoying stories in historical film.
Historical accuracy, costumes: They’re gorgeous, though the earlier ones are less accurate than the later, which are pretty amazing and showcase the 1580s-90s in a beautiful way rarely seen.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Nah, it’s pretty but dumb.

 

 

“The Day of the Doctor,” Doctor Who (2013)

Queen Elizabeth in "The Day of the Doctor"

QEI: Joanna Page
Historical accuracy, plot: The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors end up in 1562 England for part of the episode and encounter Queen Elizabeth, along with aliens. Of course, it’s not historically accurate!
Historical accuracy, costumes: From the pin-tucked fabric to the sari trim to the bobby-pin-less hair, this costume leaves some things to be desired. Sure, it could be worse, as we will see.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? This is a great Doctor Who episode, but not a great QEI appearance.

 

 

Bill (2015)

Bill (2015)

QEI: Helen McCrory
Historical accuracy, plot: This family-friendly movie is set during the “lost years” of William Shakepeare’s youth, during which he left Stratford-upon-Avon and rose to fame as a playwright in London. Kendra found it “decently entertaining.”
Historical accuracy, costumes: A bit of a mish-mash but generally OK Elizabethan (this wired ruff is recycled from Orlando, The Virgin Queen, Doctor Who).
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Not bad.

 

 

Reign (2015-2017)

Rachel Skarsten in Reign (2015-2017)

QEI: Rachel Skarsten
Historical accuracy, plot: Teenage soap opera FTW! Super silly, sometimes entertaining, hardly ever historical.
Historical accuracy, costumes: By the time Queen Elizabeth came around, the show was actually creating more of its own costumes and not just wearing designer gowns, so she had a lot of period-esque fantasy princess dresses.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? While I have a weird soft spot for this, it really is dreck.

 

 

Reinas: Virgen y Mártir (2016-2017) aka Queens: The Virgin and the Martyr

Queens (2016) - Rebecca Scott

QEI: Rebecca Scott
Historical accuracy, plot: Oh for fuck’s sake, this telenovela makes Reign look like Elizabeth R! I watched the whole thing with the intention of writing it up for Snark Week, and I still can’t formulate words about how terrible this is.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Shitty with a side of shit, but blinged up some.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Aw hell nah!

 

 

Upstart Crow’s Christmas Special (2017)

Emma Thompson in Upstart Crow's Christmas Special (2017)

QEI: Emma Thompson
Historical accuracy, plot: I like the couple eps I’ve seen of this series, they play with Shakepeare’s life in a humorous fashion. But I can’t find this episode so I don’t know how or why Queen Elizabeth shows up. But mad props for getting Emma!
Historical accuracy, costumes: The series costumes are generally OK. This version of the Armada gown is fabulous, but it really needs a bigger farthingale underneath — the skirts look droopy.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Can someone please find this for me???

 

 

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

QEI: Margot Robbie
Historical accuracy, plot: UGH NO. It’s less the timeline specifics than the characterizations because everyone acts like modern moody bitchy chicks in a cheesy soap opera, it’s ridiculous. Plus, Mary and Elizabeth have a big pointless cliched meeting,
Historical accuracy, costumes: The denim, the kicky shrugs, the punky jewelry, the bad hair, the manbags, the steampunk accents, it’s all offensive. Then randomly at the end, Queen Elizabeth has a few semi-historical costumes — why couldn’t that have happened during the rest of the movie??? We rant about this in our podcast and also in our video on 16th-century costumes, the worst.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? GAWD NO!!! CAN’T YOU HEAR MY INCOHERENT SCREAMING???

 

 

“Bloody Mary Hour,” El ministerio del tiempo (2020), aka The Ministry of Time

Rosa Blake in "Bloody Mary Hour," El ministerio del tiempo (2020)

QEI: Rosa Blake
Historical accuracy, plot: The ministry has to save Elizabeth from getting poisoned by her sister Queen Mary, so yay, pure fiction!
Historical accuracy, costumes: From the few pix I can find, I’m seeing vague attempts at Tudor on Mary and even more vague attempts at Elizabethan on Elizabeth (note the ruff) even though they’re supposed to be in the same period.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? Eh, dunno, haven’t seen the ep.

 

 

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

QEI: Kimberly Stockton
Historical accuracy, plot: Duuuude! Totally bogus on the historical front. This third trip through time by San Dimas’ now middle-aged Wyld Stallyns, plus their daughters, is full of LOLs.
Historical accuracy, costumes: Most excellent! Apparently Stockton portrays the queen at renfaires and made her own gown.
Is it marvelous in our eyes? The flick is fun, but if you blink, you might miss QEI (I did, till this was posted on Facebook!).

 

 

 

Who’s your favorite Queen Elizabeth onscreen? What’s the best of these movies or TV shows? Why?

46 Responses

  1. Colleen

    Elizabeth I from “Sir Francis Drake” from 1960s reminds me of Queen Alexandra with the mini crown and dripping pearls/diamonds. I’ve seen too many photos of royals wearing those in the 1900s.

    Reply
  2. Boxermom

    The Virgin Queen (2005)- just looking at that picture makes my head hurt. So they went to all the trouble of putting her in a decent costume and then left her hair down? Aargh! I hope you had some cocktails while you were writing this, Trystan. We appreciate your sacrifice.

    Reply
    • Natasha Rubin

      She’s posing for the Rainbow Portrait in that scene, so the hair down is actually correct! (Or, semi-correct – it was still partially up in the original portrait, but some was hanging loose too.)

      Reply
    • Janet

      Yeah the hair down doesn’t look good or appropriate in this particular scene, I agree with you Natasha Rubin. Eventhought QEI has her hair hanging down in the “Coronation Portrait” from 1600 (by an unknown artist) that hangs in the Nat. Portrait Gallery in London.
      There QEI was being portrayed as still a young lady.
      In this she looks too old to have her hair down. It’s like they forgot about her hair all together😏

      And as for the hair being down in the “Rainbow Portrait”…that shouldn’t be used as a real basis for any portrayal of her in any movie. Because that is an allegorical painting of QEI and not meant as being “real”. In such allegorical or
      mythological paintings woman (in all Art through the Centuries) are often portrayed with their hair down, even when other hairstyles were the norm in fashion.✌🏻

      Reply
  3. Shashwat

    The Simpsons!Elizabeth seemed more authentic than some other examples of cinematic liberties.
    I have seen some two year old boys who look pretty much similar to the allegedly three years old E-I in Ao1000D.The same petulant judging-you-for-inaccurate-princess-seams expression.Kids look so cute in period clothing.

    Reply
  4. Rowen G.

    I actually saw a few episodes of the ‘Sir Francis Drake’ tv show in the mid ’60s – we were living in the Caribbean, and odd British re-runs turned up sometimes on the one local English-language station. I recall the ship, and the actor who played Drake, but not a thing about QEI.

    Reply
  5. Carly Brown

    So many versions of Queen Elizabeth I that I’d never heard of here! Thanks for being so thorough with this post and finding so many different iterations of her – fascinating to see them all.

    I think my favorite version has always been, and probably will always be, Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. It has to be! The actress is already so familiar and iconic in our eyes, so nice parallels there with QEI being famous and iconic to her subjects. Plus Dench brings so much snark and deadpan humor to the role, which I think the real QEI was actually known for. That’s gotta be my favorite version.

    Reply
    • Janet

      Yes!!👏🏻I love Dame Judi Dench older (awesome snarky: “…these Plays are played for ME…” & “…don’t wear my name out…” 🤣👌🏻) portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, as well. Just like Vanessa Redgrave’s & Helen Mirren’s QEI 👍🏻.

      Reply
  6. Saraquill

    I salute your efforts in tracking down and recording all these appearances. I hope you have plenty of pink drinks on hand for recuperation.

    Reply
  7. Emily

    If you’re looking for the Upstart Crow episode you can find it on BritBox through Amazon Prime. Definitely watch the whole series, it’s a hoot!

    Reply
  8. Natasha Rubin

    Oh man, kudos to the incredible effort it must have taken to put this together! QEI is in SO MUCH MEDIA, and I can only imagine how much time and effort it took to not only put this list together, but watch so many and at least get some information about the others.

    Reply
  9. Natasha Rubin

    I do wonder about the barometer of accuracy here, though – like, Anne of the Thousand Days is described as having “minor inaccuracies but nothing huge” while MQoS 1971 is “wildly inaccurate”, but I would have said they’re pretty comparable in terms of accuracy. MQoS 1971 has the fictionalized meeting between Elizabeth and Mary (as does pretty much every MQoS movie), but AotTD has a similarly fictional meeting between Anne and Henry before her execution. MQoS fudges some details of Mary’s relationship with Bothwell to make it more romantic, while AotD incorrectly portrays Henry breaking up Anne’s betrothal so he can have her to himself. Both overall stuck pretty close to the facts, from what I recall. If I’m forgetting some glaring inaccuracy in MQoS 1971 that makes it much worse, that’s my bad, but otherwise I’m not really seeing a huge difference in accuracy here.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Obviously, it’s my barometer ;) And as a MQoS superfan w/a bookcase full of biographies, I’m a particularly harsh critic of every filmed version of her life (see my previous guide to MQoS onscreen). The 1971 flick features TWO meetings between MQoS & QEI who famously never met (even tho’ Mary requested such a mtg endlessly), makes Mary’s kidnap & rape by Bothwell into the love of her life, oh & throws in Darnley & Rizzio as gay lovers for kicks. AotD adding a convo between ppl who had already met & talked plenty of times is hardly a big deal, & Henry breaking up Anne & Percy is at least in line with his historical character.

      Reply
  10. Charity

    I had no idea there were so many adaptations of The Prince and the Pauper.

    I feel like the latest MQoS does Elizabeth really dirty and I’m still salty about it.

    Reply
  11. Irina

    The 16th century is also my happy place, which can lead to the occasional weird moment. I went to see “Elizabeth” with a college student nephew at a cinema in the middle of a local university. So, lots of academics around.
    I winced at each twisted subplot (Marie DeGuise!!!, the French prince arriving twenty years too soon, etc., etc.) but when they came to the scene where Cecil tells Elizabeth that Dudley is married himself I burst out:
    “She knew he was married. She went to his wedding!”
    Nephew will no longer attend period movies with me.
    (And yes, I know Dudley concealed his second marriage as long as he could but the movie only gives him one wife.)

    Reply
  12. SarahV

    Dear Trystan,

    This was a wonderfully informative and enjoyable piece! Looks like a lot of work.

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
  13. Roxana

    As you can see from her portraits Elizabeth had a long, pointed face with high cheekbones, long bumpy nose and wide, thin lipped mouth. Painters who wished to flatter her minimized the mouth and added fullness to the face. Like her mother she had enormous eyes, probably brown or golden hazel. She resembled Anne in feature but had Henry’s fair skin and reddish blond hair.
    She was not conventionally beautiful but she caught the eye and mesmerized. Like both parents she had charisma.

    I write all this to explain why I dislike seeing conventionally beautiful actresses cast as Elizabeth, like Margo Robbie. You want a woman with more character than beauty in her face and tremendous presence, like Flora Robson, or best of all Glenda Jackson. Cate Blanchett, though beautiful has the character and presence. Helen Mirren has completely corned the market on playing powerful women of history for a reason. I didn’t like Anne-Marie Duff at all, she seemed colorless. Laoise Murray had the unconventional but attractive angle down pat even if she was a very different type. Bette Davis and Dame Juldi Dench are all wrong physically but who cares! Bette Davis and Dame Judi can knock any strong woman role out of the park!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yup, & Bette Davis wasn’t a conventionally pretty woman of her time, but she even went the extra mile to make herself look more “unattractive” like QEI, which wasn’t common at the time (these days, both female & male actors will occasionally take “ugly” roles to show they’re “serious” aka on the hunt during awards season).

      Reply
  14. M.E. Lawrence

    The “Reign” Elizabeth makes me want to beat my head against a wall, The most badass Tudor of all reduced to a Barbie doll–yuck. I have fond memories of Mirren as E.T., but should watch it again to make sure. (Also of Irons as Leicester; he and Mirren make a believable middle-aged couple.) By the way, “Young Bess” is not based on a romance novel but is the first of a fine trilogy by Margaret Irwin about E.T.’s girlhood and political education. Irwin is brilliant at conveying a sense of time and place; the books have an almost cinematic feel.

    Reply
  15. Nzie

    I really need to watch Elizabeth R. Sounds amazing but I just haven’t plunked down and found/acquired it.

    The Oxford-Elizabeth incestuous lover thing in Anonymous is apparently a significant part of Oxfordian authorship promoter history, although not one they want to lead with, and not one every Oxfordian agrees with (of course). It’s covered in Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, a very interesting book I read earlier this year (like the author, I think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, but I didn’t really know the specifics of counter arguments.. or some of the weird elements like the incest theory held by some Oxfordians).

    Reply
    • Roxana

      There are probably some very interesting psychological reasons for some people’s wish to father a slew of bastards on Elizabeth, the less said about the incest the better.
      It is of course nonsense. Elizabeth life is exhaustively documented. Irs possible she wasn’t a virgin but she certainly never had a child.

      Reply
  16. ThoraSTooth

    I was completely spoiled for other productions in my teens, by watching the BBC Elizabeth I with Glenda Jackson when it first came to American TV. It’s always been my benchmark.

    Reply
  17. Elise

    What a wonderful wonderful wonderful post! Thank you!

    I hope that you won’t mind me adding that PBS Great Performances has covered Maria Stuarda, by Donzinetti. I know that they are stage-stage costumes that must allow people to sing, but man-oh-man! They look wonderful! And with a Red Dress that you liked so well on Mary. (watch the trailer to see it on Mary–the landing picture has a different red dress on Elizabeth)

    I would LOVE to you know your thoughts!

    https://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/gp-at-the-met-maria-stuarda-about-the-opera/1743/

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      As I said above ‘no filmed versions of plays or operas’ & sure, that’s arbitrary, but like no docu-dramas, it gives some limits or this already super-long post would have gone on forever ;) I know there are dozens of filmed versions of Maria Stuarda, for starters!

      Reply
      • Elise

        But the red dress!!!

        To the point: this post was fun fun fun! And of course you have to draw the line, somewhere. And 90s goth me definitely agrees with you about Reign.

        Thanks for bringing fun to the internets.

        Reply
  18. Susan Pola Staples

    My favourite is Elizabeth R with Dame Glenda Jackson. The costumes are TDF and deserve every award they won. Jackson conveys ERI’s wit, intelligence, political savvy and the late Sir Robert Hardy as Leceister is amazing and sexy.

    My second favourite is Elizabeth I with Dame Helen Mirren who is so poignant as the elder ERI. Then tied with this is Dame Judi Dench’s Oscar winning tour de force in Shakespeare in Love with Sandy Powell jaw dropping peacock gown.

    Upstart Crow is a scream. And well worth watching, especially if you loved Blackadder II

    Reply
  19. LE

    For some reason, The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I – Red Rose of the House of Tudor has always stuck in my head as representation of young Elizabeth I like. I think because they obvious had a small budget and borrowed costumes but still made it work on the young actress. Of course I haven’t watched in years —- maybe I’d find the costumes horrible now.

    Reply
  20. Van

    The Doctor Who episode with Shakespeare…
    Did they have that actress play Davros, too? Looks like the same face…

    Reply
  21. Cynthia Baxter

    Is this a typo?… Elizabeth’s life, in film especially, is often linked to Mary Stuart, or to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VII.
    not Henry Vlll?

    Reply
  22. Lily Lotus Rose

    Wow, I’ve barely scratched the surface on QEI on screen! Based on the few I’ve seen: Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love was my favorite portrayal, and that’s also my favorite movie. I really enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth movies. Anonymous was totally ridiculous and fun–I enjoyed it as well as the double-bill of Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. Even though Helen McCrory is a talented actress, every second of Bill was so atrocious that it made me want to scratch my eyes out.

    Reply
  23. Aleko

    You say about Blackadder II ” it’s a comedy and nothing is the least bit serious in the show, but all the characters wear proper kit from top to bottom.” But I read an interview about the first series in which I think it was Richard Curtis, the co-writer, said that they got medieval specialists to climb all overe the costume, props and sets to make sure that as far as possible everything – down to the beer mugs and the hens’ eggs in a bowl in the background (much smaller than now) was accurate for the period. As he said, you can’t be really funny about a historical period unless you paint a convincing picture of that period. That principle was carried right through the later series, and I’d say he’s right; that’s one of the things that makes them so funny.

    Reply
  24. Gill O

    It’s all about the Dames for me – Dame Glenda, Dame Judi, Dame Helen, with honourable mentions to the wonderful Miranda Richardson and Quentin Crisp (in his own way proud to be a Dame.) I saw Elizabeth R while still at school – some of the cast carried over from the also-wonderful The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell. (Bernard Hepton will always be Cranmer to me.) Glenda wasn’t old, but aged superbly in that role.

    As for Ctae, I love her as Galadriel, but no, no, NO to her Elizabeth. Though I admit I am biased because they used my beloved Durham Cathedral (mostly twelfth/thirteenth century) as a Renaissance Palace and actually had her drooping all over the tomb of the Venerable Bede. The costumes are in such modern textiles and colours, too – I’ll swear there was some crystal organza in there somewhere.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      I noticed the anachronistic use of gothic backgrounds but the Venerable Bede’s tomb?? Seriously?!

      Reply

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