I left off at episode three of Becoming Elizabeth (2022), disgusted by the rapey storyline yet generally pleased by the costumes. Well, the rest of series was just more of the same and also a slog. Ep 4 opens with the young Elizabeth admitting to Kat Ashley that she’s had sex with Seymour multiple times and is afraid she’s pregnant.
Mary might be the only decently portrayed character in the series — she’s shown to be canny, wise for her age, generous at heart but also guarded as needs be, and while true to her religion she’s not a crazed zealot like some portrayals of Mary Tudor go for.
Oh that’s right, in this portrait of Mary ‘s distant cousin, archduchess consort of Austria and the sister of Phillip of Spain, who Mary Tudor would marry in 1554.
Of course, it’s not the Catholics but the people working for Edward who are shown as zealots here, beating up and stealing from Catholics in the name of the Protestant church, hanging and burning people hither and yon. For all the Reformation stuff the show tries to shove in for gratuitous violence, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, isn’t even a character in the series! He’s the one who had huge influence over Edward when it came to pushing the Reformation.
Meanwhile Catherine Parr was definitely pregnant with Seymour’s child but doesn’t give a fuck about that and barely about him, just her standing at court. Which doesn’t matter because, as we all know, she drops dead as soon as she pops out the baby. Which nobody cares about — hey, that part is historically accurate!
Thomas Seymour goes from feckless molester of any-age-of females to pouty “the world is out to get me” in 5 minutes, and before his wife’s body is cold in the grave, he proposes marriage to Elizabeth, at court, whispering behind the King’s throne. Seymour is such an ass — he may well have been so historically, but as I noted in my first review, this series paints him as a “roguish” and “charming” jerk who you “just can’t help but love.” There’s precious little judgement of him for being the creepy predator and political schemer he ostensibly acts like. Even when he’s executed, that’s for political reasons (historically) and the show leans in on a brother vs. brother angle.
I’m so fucking OVER men getting away with being painted as sexy for being assholes! If he’s an asshole, make it clear that he’s an asshole, and any character attracted to him is deluded and being taken advantage of. Falling in love with an asshole shouldn’t be valorized. Writers and show-runners have choices in the stories they tell and how they depict characters, especially when the history is murky. It’s pure misogyny to keep letting gross men lord it over women on every level unchecked and unquestioned..
Ep 5 has Seymour and Elizabeth fucking up against a wall and Elizabeth saying she loves him. Which, UGH. WHY. Srsly, The Things I Do For This Blog. This show tried really hard to kill my boner for all things 16th century.
There’s a speech in ep 7 by Elizabeth where she yells at Edward and the court for being such scheming, suspicious jerks, and it would have come off a billion times better if the show hadn’t shown her fucking Seymour and being in love with him. Don’t want folks to think you’re a whore like your mom? Maybe don’t flirt outrageously with and actually have sex with the husband of your former step-mother. Oh, and don’t wear your mom’s necklace either. Not a good look, IMO. This show doesn’t paint Elizabeth as a particularly smart kid.
But she’s also wearing a nice repro of this gown:
That necklace is NOT the Boleyn “B” unless you squint and purposely mis-read it.
The repro fabric on this gown is really impressive though!
And I appreciated seeing all the layers when she was being dressed in this gown:
One thing I wanted to mention from the get-go that the show does get right is how there’s always a number of servants around titled folks like Elizabeth, Mary, and Edward. When they sleep at night, they have two or three servants sleeping in the same room. That’s one of those things you always read about, but isn’t depicted often onscreen. And it’s a key reason why conspiracy theories like Elizabeth having been pregnant at some point in her life would be so unlikely — she was surrounded by people, who’d have to have been bribed or otherwise silenced about any such event.
While I have issues with the whole portrayal of Robert Dudley and his relationship with Elizabeth (which for this show’s purposes has to be super-duper second fiddle to her Twu Wuv with Seymour, barf), I did like the introduction of Amy Robsart. Finally, she’s more than just a fatal stair-fall-victim.
I was SO annoyed by the end of episode 8 though — Edward doesn’t die quite yet, which means someone plans for a second season. Fuuuuuuuuck. While part of me is intrigued because Romola Garai as Mary Tudor is one of the few good things about this series. But I don’t trust the showrunners to do anything else that tempts me to actually pay much attention to this mess.
One thing I did like about the final eps is that Starz played teasers for the upcoming Catherine de Medici series. Yeah, yeah, I have 16th century in my bones, and finally there’s a show about a person who hasn’t been totally done to death. At least The Serpent Queen looks more fun than this mess, which couldn’t decide if it was about a misunderstood teen romance or historical politics and couldn’t do either concept justice.
Did you manage to make it through Becoming Elizabeth?
That is so almost a wonderful copy of teenage Bess’s red frock! But either they cut it just a bit too low on the shoulders or – more likely, given the way the edges of her smock are showing – they just couldn’t work out how to stop it slipping down. That one detail gives it a slightly slutty look that the original definitely does not have. Pity! They really did try.
Ugh. Just ugh.
Not only did 16th century royalty live surrounded by attendants day and night they didn’t live in each other’s pockets either. Both Mary and Elizabeth visited Edward at court but spent most of their time in the country on their own estates. Elizabeth never saw Seymour again after she left Catherine’s household. They exchanged a few letters and Seymour tried to suborn her servants but he had no opportunity to have sex with her against a wall or any other way.
Mary stated that she’d only seen Tom Seymour once and never spoken with him and that’s perfectly probable.
I may have to hate-watch this just so I can bitch about it on my blog (Romola Garai is always worth watching, even if what she’s in is shitty).
I’m now 6 episodes in, and it’s not as awful as I thought it would be (romanticizing Thomas Seymour aside :P), but I am getting pretty damn sick of the animal cruelty. I realize that kind of stuff happened all the time in Tudor England; doesn’t mean I want to see it.
Yeah, the cock-fighting was … not good to watch, despite being historically accurate. I wish there was a way they could have filmed it to be less about the animals & only about the spectators. It does say something relevant about the period, but much like the realistic depiction of human torture, nobody needs closeups to get the idea.
So Princess Elizabeth is just a real relatable teen princess who’s afraid she’s knocked up? Sounds too awful to even be funny. And could they not find a performer who actually looked like E.T.? Red hair is not enough. (She was also considerably taller than her sister.) Oh, and who is the guy in the top photo supposed to be? Please tell me it’s not Thomas Seymour.
The very top pic is Elizabeth & Robert Dudley.
I’m avoiding it like the plague. This is so bad history. ERI didn’t hmget pregnant by Thomas the paedophile rapist and traitor. If anything did happen, the enemies of both would have destroyed her.
Thank you for enduring this so that I can assert valid grounds for refusing to watch it.
This is interesting to read, because I have watched it and felt like Seymour was ABSOLUTELY portrayed as a creep who was grooming young Elizabeth. Rapists and creeps sometimes come in handsome, charming packages. And the up against the wall scene was not sexy. To me it read like him taking advantage of her and Elizabeth not getting much out of it. I do think that it is an issue that they didn’t cast an actress who looks younger. Imagine how much more disturbing some moments would have been if Elizabeth had been played by someone who looks as young as the actress who plays Jane Grey.
Thanks for throwing your body on this thing to protect the unsuspecting.
I normally really like your guys’ postings and I do have my problems with this series (including the handling of the thomas seymour stuff) but I cant help but feel that these posts are approaching the series in really bad faith. I don’t think there’s any way you could watch this series and not think Thomas comes off as anything but a self-pitying coward and a bully. ELIZABETH sees him as roguishly charming, because she’s 14 and being groomed. Depiction=/=endorsement. In the scene where they have sex and the camera zooms in on Bess’ face she’s clearly upset and traumatized. Also jesus the language in this review is full of victim-blaming in a very weird way, calling Elizabeth a whore and slutty and stupid. I guess you’re being “funny” but I don’t think you can fairly claim to be a feminist publication and mock a depiction of a teenager being groomed like this??? Are survivors only “real” survivors if they never gave into their abuser’s attentions even for a moment??
Anyway, I hope you don’t take this as rude or aggressive because it’s criticism offered in good faith and again, I really like your blog.
If you read what I’m saying, I’m blaming THE SHOW for its portrayal. “Writers and show-runners have choices in the stories they tell and how they depict characters, especially when the history is murky.” In the first & this review, I’ve continuously complained about how the series depicts the characters. The series shows grooming as “romantic” & “sexy” not as predatory, creepy, harmful, disgusting, & something to be condemned. To the very end, this characterization of Elizabeth is a girl in love with her abuser. It’s horrible to watch! I’m not blaming the victim, I’m blaming the fucking show that doesn’t even consider Elizabeth as a victim. And the show makes her a whore & an idiot, without any redeeming qualities (aside from costume; altho’ putting her in the red dress when she thinks she’s pregnant is such a design cliche — I didn’t invent “whore red,” it’s been done to death visually before).
I just don’t understand how you can watch the series and not think it’s showing Seymour’s treatment of Bess as “predatory, creepy, harmful, disgusting”?? Because they do. Seymour’s terrible character is constantly pointed out. His own brother compares him to an open sore. We constantly see him pressure, badger and manipulate Bess, despite never saying directly that he loves her. Even when he’s mourning Catherine Parr and remembering his sister Jane, it’s all about him and his sadboy feelings, not about these actual women whose lives were lost. It really feels like your complaint is just that they expect the audience to pick up on this for themselves, instead of hanging a big neon sign around his neck that says EVIL. considering the actor himself has said that Seymour in this show is meant to come off as predatory I just am having a hard time seeing this uncomplicated endorsement of Seymour’s behavior that you’re claiming. And saying “the show doesn’t consider Elizabeth as a victim” also seems very unfair to me. The scene where Catherine says to her “what you have done does not matter, all that matters is what people think you have done” reads to me like a very pointed critique of victim blaming. We also see Bess burning Seymour’s last letter, (she’s not “a girl in love with her abuser til the very end”) and her tearful scene in front of Edward’s court (whether you think it’s built up well or not) directly acknowledged her age and her vulnerable position and the way she’s being judged by men years older than her. There’s also that heartbreaking scene where she turns down Robert’s offer to run away, because she’s so traumatized by Seymour that she sees him everywhere and can’t fully trust even her dear friend.
I definitely don’t think this series has no problems at all. I agree with you that I wish they focused on Bess’ intelligence a bit more (she spoke at least 4 languages and was translating french at like, 8 years old if I remember right?) with maybe some scenes of her being studious or reading or something. They extrapolated a LOT about her relationship with Seymour, making it into a full-on sexual relationship when historically we don’t have record of anything other than inappropriate touching and clothing-damage. And yes, the historical inaccuracy does annoy me (along with the compressed timeline, why is she still 15 at the end of the series when she should be 19 at least??? whatever) but I also think it’s important to evaluate the story that’s being told in a fair way. The show does not “make her a whore” it makes her a girl being taken advantage of by a way older man. Yes they show her having a crush on him and returning his affection to some extent, but that doesn’t make her a whore and an idiot, it makes her a teenager, and its his responsibility as an older married man to reject her. And unfortunately that’s realistic for a lot of abusive situations, abusers will take advantage of a crush or any positive feelings the victim has for them.
Again, I love this blog and I really appreciate all the work you guys put into research and reviewing, and I reference it a lot for my own sewing projects and research. I really hope you don’t take this as mindless bashing or hating. I’m totally fine agreeing to disagree about what this series is going for and I am really looking forward to your reviews of The Serpent Queen (imo the costumes look pretty stylized, but in a very pretty and creative way that still keeps the Vibe of the 16th century!) Best wishes.
And I just don’t understand how you can watch the series & not think it’s showing Elizabeth as a starry-eyed romantic teen, unproblematically in love with someone who should be — but is not shown to be! — a monster. The show’s critique of Seymour is only political via his brother, the council, & Edward. Not sexual via any of his victims or witnesses to his salacious activity. The show heaps criticism on Elizabeth for her relationship with Seymour through every other character, her own speech & actions & even the costume design. It’s very slanted! I didn’t make it that way; the showrunners did. Elizabeth rejects Dudley bec. she’s still in love with Seymour. She’d already told Jane Grey she knew about “love” which Jane thought was just sex, again, the show is critiquing Elizabeth for fucking Seymour while showing she was in love with him. WTF writers? Where’s the trauma? I didn’t see it other than the show trying to say she was maybe “broken hearted” in a pouty teenager’s first crush kind of way. It’s a really crappy version of young Elizabeth & just a pathetic young female character onscreen. Blame the show’s writers for lacking feminist cred & blaming the victim.
Obvs, we’re seeing the show differently, which is fine. But I keep coming back to what the show presents itself as on the whole — young Elizabeth’s “tragic romance” that formed who she became as an adult. That seems to be the theme. Not that she was sexually assaulted as a girl & that formed who she became, but that her heart was broken, so she hardened herself to become the Virgin Queen. That seems to be this show’s premise inside & out.
Hey! I just wanted to say that, while I was really and truly revolted by the entire Thomas Seymour storyline, and while I don’t think the show handled it with as much clarity (or historical accuracy) as it needed, I do agree with Belle that it wasn’t presented as unproblematic.
There definitely should have been more scandalised reactions to his behaviour as we know there were at the time, etc. However, a lot of his scenes with Elizabeth, including some of the ick sexual ones and I believe the dress cutting one, from memory, did quite an interesting thing in contrasting the dreamy romantic lighting (presumably to show us how their Elizabeth is ‘seeing’ the encounter) with some truly unsettling and ominous music. I don’t think this was a clear enough denunciation, but I definitely felt that we, the audience, were supposed to be ‘the adult in the room’ who was able to see that this was not okay, even if the young victim could not. (I also think the facial close up on Elizabeth during ick wall sex scene was supposed to show us that she wasn’t enjoying it after all.)
Additionally, there’s not any hint that her refusal to run away with Robert Dudley was about her loving Seymour. It’s specifically framed as her being unwilling to allow someone to use her like Seymour would have, and the effect that realising she is a playing piece has had on her ability to trust even her long time friend and confidant, as Belle said.
The Jane Grey/Elizabeth ‘whore’ conversation was ick and weird and just no so fully on board with your opinion about that bit.
I do also think though that Belle’s discomfort with some of the language of this article is worth listening to. As feminists, we do ourselves and each other no favours when we react defensively to good faith critique. Belle was, I believe, trying to point out that, while you objected to the victim blaming in the show, it was present in your own language when talking about the events. To be honest, I felt similarly when reading this article, specifically the part:
“Don’t want folks to think you’re a whore like your mom? Maybe don’t flirt outrageously with and actually have sex with the husband of your former step-mother.”
This really did come off as victim blaming. If Elizabeth was the victim of a predator, as I think we all definitely agree, then framing these actions as choices that SHE made isn’t really fair. If he raped her, then she did not “have sex with” him. You can’t really have both. Either she can consent, and in this show, did, and therefore can be criticised about whether it’s sensible to do so. Or, she’s a victim, she couldn’t consent because she was a child being groomed, and she was taken advantage of. If the latter, saying that it was stupid of her to sleep with Seymour makes no sense and it does come off as blaming her for something that you have absolutely fairly identified as sexual predation.
I also want to say that I have been a reader of this blog for years and I have enjoyed your work immensely, so I hope you are able to see that this comment is made without any intention to be confrontational or dismissive of your objections to the show. Best wishes. -Lizzy
Since y’all want me to be super mega explicit, how about “Don’t want folks to think this character is a whore like the show’s other characters think her mom was? Maybe don’t have her flirt outrageously with and actually have sex with the husband of her former step-mother because the characters in the show take that to mean she’s really is a whore.” — I thought that was understood that I was talking about what the show was presenting & readers got that I’m critiquing the show. Since, y’know, this blog is all about critiquing TV & movies.
All I’m talking about is how the show presents these characters in the world of this show. The show is not clear that Elizabeth is the victim of a predator because the show makes that character of Elizabeth actively & willfully take part in sexual activity with Seymour to the point of thinking she’s pregnant & considering marrying him. It’s not victim blaming or anti-feminist to critique a show for their plot & characterizations that I see as horribly retrograde.
That some of you want to find this show’s portrayal more nuanced than I do is, well, it’s a choice. But it doesn’t mean that you are more feminist than I am or any such thing. It’s purely a difference of opinion.
Totally agree with you, Belle. Exactly my thoughts as I read this review. Super disappointed in this site.
Elizabeth was probably deeply conflicted about Seymour. He was definitely the type of man she admired bur she most emphatically did not enjoy the way he molested her. As I said before she seems to have liked Seymour best at a safe distance. It was pleasant to hear people talk about how this attractive older man was in love with her and wanted to marry her but that doesn’t mean she wanted to marry him. And she certainly would never have done so without the approval of her brother’s Council.
There is every reason to believe Robert Dudley was the love of Elizabeth’s life but even with him her head ruled her heart, and lower organs.
While I had many problems with Elizabeth’s behavior, espacially in episode 5, I have to strongly disagree about Thomas Seymour. To me he was, in every way, an ahole in the series!
In the first three episodes maybe you could argue that he is romanticized in some way (to me he was a creepy AH there already), but from episode 4 on, he is straight up awful. To Catherine, to Elizabeth, to Edward (to Edward’s dog! :'( ), to everyone. Omg the way he went on to start to groom little Jane, I almost screamed at the screen “run, Jane!”. He is bad, awful, creepy, disgusting, manipulative, and narcissistic in the series. What a narcissistic speech that was, after CP’s death, to Edward Seymour. “Life is so unfair to me!” Yeah, not like CP and Jane S suffered and lost their OWN lives, no, life is just being unfair to you, Thomas, because everything is about you… Narcissistic ahole.
That’s how I saw it.
I also don’t agree with what is written about Catherine Parr here. She did care about being pregnant in the series, and also about Thomas, very much. First she is shocked by the pregnancy news, then she is happy, then she wants to make Thomas happy with the news, then she is upset because of his “affair”, then she can’t help but forgives him, and in the end she is happy with the baby and him. Only to die a few moments later :( And she does still care a lot about him too, a lot, even far too much, after learning about him and Elizabeth. In the series, it didn’t seem to me she cared that much about her standing at court, she just deeply cared about Thomas and making him happy. And she knew he cared a lot about their standing at court, so she cared too – to make him happy. And she was much too forgiving to him about the affair, you could see she knows she should forgive but she just can’t help it because she loves him. Loved him too much and cared for him too much. What a typical behavior, sadly, from spouses who are cheated on. Forgiving the awful man again and again. Happens too often, sadly.
Like the Wife of Bath Katherine Parr had good old husbands then chose a sexy young man who made her miserable. She longed for a child of her own, then when she finally had one, promptly died. It’s tragic.
As for Seymour, you are a pretty sh-t husband when you make Henry VIII look like the better choice!