Sickness vs. Health
Whenever a story is converted from literature to the screen, it undergoes many changes. These modifications could be due to time constraints, the director's opinion of the events that took place, or just for pure entertainment. Often times very important events, places, and even people are omitted. Since many people are more likely to watch a movie than to read a book, it is evident that we live in a primarily visual society. Directors seem to take advantage of that fact by adding and cutting to the story wherever they think is necessary to make things more “interesting.” The directors must think that the facts are just not enough. When comparing the text of Christopher Hibbert's The Virgin Queen and Shekhar Kapur's film Elizabeth, it is evident that Kapur did not feel compelled to portray that Elizabeth was like her sister Mary, very sickly. Why would the movie emphasize Elizabeth's beauty and light- hearted spirit while at the same time focusing on Mary's despair?
In Hibbert's The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth is very sickly during her sister's reign; however, in the movie Elizabeth, she is portrayed as very lively, happy, and healthy. In one scene she is shown playing in the fields with her friends, and there is no talk of her being the slightest bit ill. Throughout the movie Elizabeth is shown laughing and playing, and always seems to be in good health. This could be in order to build her character and her popularity with the audience. It is important to keep in mind that people like to see beautiful things. The audience would not want to see Elizabeth with “Her face swelled up; she was often in tears. . .” (Hibbert, 53). To Americans, a person with a swelled-up face is not highly desired. When we see that, there is automatically a negative response, because in our society emphasis is put on being perfect. When people have imperfections, especially celebrities, they are ridiculed and made fun of. Those are the types of things that the tabloids love, because consumers love to see them as well. The director wanted to make Elizabeth as perfect as he could, almost as if she were immune to any harm. However, had her illnesses been portrayed, she may have been seen as a survivor. As it is in the film Elizabeth, she seems to only be concerned with whom and if she will marry. This is because of the pressure from her kingdom for her to produce an heir to the throne to prevent future conflict. The director may have felt that sickness was a sign of weakness and that health may symbolize strength and power, which is what Queen Elizabeth represents today.
The failure to display Elizabeth's sicknesses may have also been used to contrast the characters of Mary and Elizabeth. We see how Mary is very homely and “unsightly,” meaning she is not very pleasant to look at. In The Virgin Queen, she is said have “appeared more like a practical housewife or even a nun than a queen.....and dressed badly” (Hibbert, 55). I believe the portrayal of Mary in the movie may have been a bit exaggerated; however it went along the lines of the text. Elizabeth is the main character, so she has to be held in highest regards. The director could not have cast an equally beautiful woman to play Mary as he did with Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth. This is true because the movie is called Elizabeth and the director wants to make Elizabeth the total opposite of her predecessor. The movie is not concerned with trying to make Mary look good, but it plays off of Mary's inability to have children and the fact that her husband has left her because of it and he lack of physical appeal. However, that was not the only reason. Elizabeth puts all of Mary's shortcomings in lights, meaning that they are broadcast to the audience. Mary is bitter, sickly, ugly, not favored by the people, and infertile.
By bringing out Elizabeth's strengths and exaggerating Mary's weaknesses, Elizabeth is seen as the better woman. It is commonly known that a beautiful woman is more liked than an “ugly” one. It is a hard fact to grasp, but is also just a sign of the times that we live in. Plastic surgery is at an all time high, because people are trying to fit what society considers “beautiful.” Botox here and a nose job there have become the norm in the world of 2007. The “ugly” woman doesn't seem to really matter when put against the pretty woman. And what a coincidence that Elizabeth's reign is known as “The Golden Age,” while poor Mary is bound to the name of “Bloody Mary.” The director took advantage of these facts in order to make for better viewing. He is exaggerating a stereotype. Since Elizabeth’s reign is favored, the director made her very likeable, while Mary is the total opposite. Although Elizabeth did have plenty of brains, the movie was really focused on her beauty. People sometimes prefer fiction over fact. The movie may not have been as accepted had it told the absolute truth, or the best-known truth. Certain things were omitted that may have been seen as boring or a negative reflection of Elizabeth, such as the fact that she was indeed sickly. I'm sure that not many people questioned the fact that in the movie itself, Elizabeth was never ill, and this is because many people would not think to read about it. I know if I had seen the movie before reading the book, I may have even thought some of the bogus antics of the director may have been true. That is why people should always question the information they are given. It is always more valuable to read the text than to trust the judgment of a film director. There are too many constraints when it comes to the world of film.
Elizabeth. Videocassette. Dir. Shekhar Kapur, 1998. 124 min.
Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1991.