Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Elizabeth I


Is there a better actress working in the movies and television today than Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov?

What’s that? Never heard of her? Try Helen Mirren. We were stunned by her presence in The Queen, for which she is certain to win an Oscar nomination, and which she stands an extremely good chance of winning, this time. (She was nominated for Gosford Park and The Madness of King George.) I really hope she does win, if only for the joy of seeing someone stand up there who has been quoted about the Academy Awards thus: “It’s the creme-de-la-creme of bullshit.” I’m sure she will be polite and humble in the face of the great honor, but still …

Elizabeth Tudor and Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha could not be more different, and yet she totally inhabits both roles. This four-hour series begins with the Virgin Queen in her forties, since someone Mirren’s age can’t play a child queen. It covers familiar territory, but then, it’s history, what are you going to do? (Well, once more invent a meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, as in Mary, Queen of Scots with Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave, for one thing. Writers of historical fiction cannot seem to resist this particular fiction.) This series concentrates on her unrequited loves, but doesn’t stint on her role in governing. She is simply one of the most fascinating figures in all English history, in all history of any kind, and of historical women only Joan of Arc could rival her, and Joan was nutty as a cacahouète du gâteau. The first part deals with Elizabeth and Leicester, played very well by Jeremy Irons, and the second with Elizabeth and Essex, who as written by Nigel Williams and played by Hugh Dancy, is really reprehensible and a fool.

But it’s Mirren’s show, and she brings Elizabeth to life better than anyone ever has, and considering how many great actresses have played her, that’s saying something. She won an Emmy for it.

I was wondering where in Merry Olde England they found the fantastic, huge sets. The palaces ran on and on, and were used to the fullest in long steadicam shots, and the outdoor scenes were stunning and looked authentic. Well, it seems they found them in the Merry Olde Town of Vilnius. Vilnius … er … Lithuania. Actually they built them there, almost certainly because labor is cheap in the former SSRs. Such a job! And more well-deserved Emmys. Ditto the costumes, especially Mirren’s. As I pointed out to Lee, in some of those dresses you had to be sure of hitting a doorway dead-center, or your elaborate shoulder and head pieces would bump the jambs in a rather undignified way.