by Allan Fish
(UK 1971 522m) DVD1/2
The Lion’s cub
p Roderick Graham d Claude Whatham, Herbert Wise, Richard Martin, Roderick Graham, Donald McWhinnie w John Hale, Rosemary Ann Sissons, Julian Mitchell, Hugh Whitemore, John Prebble, Ian Rodger m David Munrow art Peter Seddon cos Elizabeth Waller
Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth I), Robert Hardy (Leicester), Ronald Hines (Burghley), Stephen Murray (Walsingham), Peter Jeffrey (Philip II), Vivian Pickles (Mary Queen of Scots), Michael Williams (Alençon), John Woodvine (Sir Francis Drake), John Shrapnel (Sussex), Daphne Slater (Mary I), Robin Ellis (Essex), John Ronane (Thomas Seymour), Angela Thorne (Lettice Knollys), Basil Dignam (Bishop Gardiner), Bernard Hepton (Cranmer), Margaretta Scott (Catherine dei Medici), Christopher Hancock (Idiaquez), Rachel Kempson (Kat Ashley), Rosalie Crutchley (Katherine Parr), Hugh Dickson (Robert Cecil), John Nettleton (Francis Bacon), Nicholas Selby (Walter Raleigh), Peter Egan (Southampton), Jill Balcon (Lady Cobham), Esmond Knight (Bishop de Quadra),
The Six Wives of Henry VIII was successful enough to instil a need amongst audiences for historical dramas on TV that the BBC wasn’t going to ignore. They wanted more of the same and, in actual fact, that’s what they gave them. Elizabeth R was, to all intents and purposes not so much a sequel to the earlier series as parts 7-12 of the same series. Even cast members who played characters still relevant in the second series returned to their parts. Looked back upon today, it must be viewed with a little sympathy, considering the date in which it was made. Historical dramas back then really were cheap, with very few exteriors and relied largely on existing buildings when they did.
Elizabeth R, like its predecessor, consisted of six episodes, taking her story from her incarceration and near death under fanatical Catholic half-sister and predecessor Mary and her being courted by Philip II, her early romance with Leicester and struggles to bring England under one church, through various would-be suitors and into her dealing with her treacherous cousin Mary, Queen of Scots and defeat of the Spanish Armada and eventual death.
There have been many Elizabeths to cherish on screen, dating right back to the divine Sarah Bernhardt in 1912. One recalls Flora Robson’s imperious portrayal in Fire over England and The Sea Hawk, Bette Davis’ more showy turns in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Virgin Queen which made those mediocrities watchable. More recently we’ve seen Anne-Marie Duff in TV’s The Virgin Queen (she was good, the series was underwhelming), Helen Mirren as the ageing queen in Elizabeth I, Judi Dench’s Oscar-winning cameo in Shakespeare in Love, and, of course, the best on the big screen – no question, Cate Blanchett, superb in both the excellent Elizabeth and the rather tired sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Even so, despite numerous turns to relish, the queen, ahem, of all Elizabeths, was Glenda Jackson.
Ironically, she herself played her on the big screen soon after in the awful Mary, Queen of Scots, much like Keith Michell played Henry VIII in a film soon after the TV series. True, Glenda might not quite be the vision of the older Elizabeth – the make up wasn’t up to much in 1971 – she nails the queen up to the Armada period, her cutting tones perfect for the part. She came to the screen late, via the film version of The Marat/Sade, a play and film she hated doing, but though Women in Love and Sunday, Bloody Sunday remain high points, all her big screen work falls just short of her Elizabeth Tudor in the pantheon. It’s one of the most imperious performances on television in the seventies, and she’s ably supported by Robert Hardy as Leicester, Peter Jeffrey as Philip II and John Shrapnel as Sussex. And, if the whole isn’t as fresh as once it was, it’s still a minor milestone in TV drama, and without it, this selection would have been without a decent Liz (Flora Robson’s bit part reprise in The Sea Hawk aside), and with it clearly being an improvement on Henry, I give it a pass.