E.I. (Elizabeth Immaculate): Untouched, Uncensored
What’s Going On Here? A Reaction to Elizabeth
By Denise A. Davis
Upon watching (and completing for the first time) the Shekhar Kapur adaptation of the first of her reign, I found myself strangely bemused. I enjoyed—and have always enjoyed from the bits and pieces that I have seen of the movie—Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Elizabeth. Watching the movie made me realize how human a remarkable woman like Queen Elizabeth actually is. She could be frightened. She could be confused. She could be…in love?
It’s ironic, really. An observer can be on one side of the extreme or the other. You either believe she was devoid of romance in her life, or she had too much of it. It seemed a little outlandish that Queen Elizabeth would have a lover at all since she didn’t get married. That was before I took this course, however, and now I understand that it’s a little more complicated than just the simple black and white. It seems that the screenwriter of Elizabeth is on the other extreme, deciding to create this overly sensual and sexual relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, played by Joseph Fiennes, who would eventually play Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, which is also fraught with sensuality and romantic overtones. We have discussed the matter of Elizabeth’s sex life (or perhaps lack thereof?) in class, and this portrayal feels like a betrayal for some reason to me. The dimension of sensuality cannot be ignored whenever you have men and women involved, but there is actually a scene in the movie where Elizabeth is engaging in sexual relations with Robert Dudley, even though it was never proved that they had a sexual relationship. Why should Queen Elizabeth’s sex life be significant to the viewers of this film?
We have to think about the release date, I suppose. It’s 1998. The Backstreet Boys are crooning about playing games and breaking hearts, while we’re wondering where these other five guys came from. Britney Spears is a year from wreaking her havoc on the world, and the Spice Girls are coming out with a movie! Our country’s president is having sex with an intern! (As if power wasn’t an aphrodisiac enough, we have to add that dimension of illicit sex to it, too, to make it more appealing to the general populace.) What is the world coming to? Or rather, where has the world’s collective mind been? Of course, in the gutter, if There’s Something About Mary wasn’t any indication. To attract viewers to the film, the screenwriter adds a couple of sex scenes to sell it to viewers eighteen and older who want to see something that isn’t just historical (because history has been dubbed as boring) but also those who will want to catch a glimpse of sensuality and nudity. No matter how mature some people get, there will always be that thrill of seeing someone’s bare breast or backside on a movie screen.
Christopher Hibbert explains, in his biography of Queen Elizabeth, “She was rarely alone, even in her Bedchamber where one of her ladies also slept and four chambermaids were always on call, day or night” (76). Of course, Hibbert makes this statement amid an explanation about her safety from people trying to kill her, but I think it’s safe to assume that, she wouldn’t have had the privacy to take Dudley as a lover. Given her influence, on one hand, it would be easy to have such indiscretions covered, but, on the other hand, someone would have said something about it. The treatment of Queen Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship in the film troubled me because it sends the wrong message to those who don’t know their history or don’t think to look things up. Calling her “Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen” almost seems hypocritical when she hasn’t been portrayed as a virgin all along. Queen Elizabeth would have been much smarter than that, I realize now.
In Jean Plaidy’s historical novel Queen of This Realm, which chronicles Elizabeth’s life through her own point-of-view, it is made clear that having sex would endanger Elizabeth’s life by giving the power she has earned to a man.
Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. Cambridge: Perseus Books, 1991.