The Virgin Queen (2005)


In honor of Elizabeth I’s 481st birthday, here’s another shout-out to a portrayal of Good Queen Bess on screen — this time, the BBC’s 2005 miniseries, The Virgin Queen.

Anne-Marie Duff is a highly talented, underrated (imo) actress who plays the leading role of Elizabeth. She really nails the emotional depths of ER, showing us both her intellect and bad-ass-ness, and the toll that came from stifling her romantic side.

It helps that the role of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was played by Tom Hardy, who, YUM.

2005 The Virgin Queen

The costumes were designed by Amy Roberts, who has been designing since the 1970s for everything from Doctor Who to Cold Comfort Farm, Upstairs Downstairs, and Call the Midwife.

Some of the costumes are drop dead stunners, and others are definitely streamlined and modernized for a modern audience. The BBC website tells us,

“Amy and her assistant got to work reading books, visiting museums and immersing themselves in the styles of the Elizabethan era. However, once they had got to grips with the feel of the times, they cast all that research aside. They have to bear in mind that they are re-creating a world for modern eyes and they will let their dramatic instincts guide them more than a slavish search for historical accuracy. They also created mood boards, collecting pictures from modern fashion magazines that had the attitude that they were looking to create. This approach can be seen particularly in the way the men’s costumes have been styled. If the actors had been dressed in the authentic Elizabethan style, they would have had to wear large knickerbockers that would have made them look comical to today’s audience. Amy was keen to find a way of making the male characters look sexy, so worked to create a style of costume that emphasised the chest, making the upper body look wider and narrowing towards the waist, pointing towards the groin. She also used darker colours for the lower parts of the costume and brighter colours on top, echoing the modern style of wearing brighter t-shirts and tops over jeans. In addition she tried to cut down on the use of ruffs, using them only for the very formal occasions. Where possible the men were given open necklines.”

So yes, this means you get something like this, with Duff in a stunning version of ER’s coronation outfit and Dudley looking like he’s ditched school:

2005 The Virgin Queen

And this — the 16th c. version of yoga pants? (Which, I admit, appeals to me, because the thing that always keeps me from really getting into the 16th century is the crap-on-crap, bling-on-bling thing. Which I know most of you love. I mean, I like LOOKING at it. But do I actually want to sew it all on?)

2005 The Virgin Queen

That’s Kat Ashley on the left, and Lettice Knollys on the right. Not sure what’s on Kat’s head. The Virgin Queen | BBC.

But you also get some really fabulous, over the top dresses, ruffs, and wigs:

2005 The Virgin Queen

Serious Rainbow Portrait action. The Virgin Queen | BBC.

2005 The Virgin Queen

A pretty serious wig with some serious bling. The Virgin Queen | BBC

And the old age makeup, when ER is in her waning years, is REALLY well done.

2005 The Virgin Queen

The Virgin Queen | Voigt fx


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

6 Responses

  1. Victoria

    This mini-series is “my” Elizabeth, since i’m too young to have seen Elizabeth R originally. I remember watching this past my bedtime feeling very naughty.

    Even after I re-watched it a few months ago I was really surprised at how great it was. Anne-Marie Duff is amazing, and so is the aging process. I just wish it was more than 5 episodes long!

  2. MissBrilliantine

    I have to admit, guiltily, that I love the first “Elizabeth” with Cate Blanchett. It is so over the top, it’s like it was designed by Pageant Queens. There is definitely an Italian influence on all the Ladies-in- Waiting, which I love. And poisoned dress, it makes me hoot every time!

  3. Laura Eckel

    I also have watched this mini-series a hundred times, Ann Marie Duff in my opinion is the best Queen Elizabeth on film, even better than Kate Blanchette, and Tom Hardy is a demi God. I love this show, please do some more, loved it

    • Kendra

      I’m totally with you on Tom Hardy! I’d say Cate Blanchett just barely edges out Anne-Marie Duff for me as Elizabeth, but I agree that Duff’s performance in this is really great!

  4. PGF

    Tom Hardy does my favorite version of Robert Dudley. This was a pretty good series; my favorite episode was the conflict with the Spanish Armada…