Maybe it’s because of their funny accents, or maybe it’s because of the natural desire to see ancient history relived, but the British sure have a knack for their period piece dramas and making everyone want to watch. And when Elizabeth I aired on HBO over a two-part miniseries during the spring of 2006, it won a truckload of Emmy awards, not only for the production, but also for the title character, played by Helen Mirren (Excalibur) and one of the supporting actors (Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune).
Mirren plays the Queen in 16th Century England and whose close friend is the Earl of Leicester (Irons). The queen had been receiving political pressure to marry someone with royal blood to extend the legacy of the crown. Elizabeth has a friend in the Earl of Leicester, and despite his counsel, she decides to seek companionship that goes outside of the normal religious beliefs. It’s because of this that she decides to carry on. Once the populus saw this and revolted against it, she assuaged to their wishes. During this time, Elizabeth almost subconsciously felt that the relationship with the Earl (also named Robert Dudley) should be taken to a higher level, before he decided to get married to another woman.
As the years grew on, Robert decided to return to Elizabeth for her friendship, but soon he fell ill. Before this, he managed to introduce Elizabeth to his stepson, the Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux (Hugh Dancy, Black Hawk Down). While Devereaux at first was flaunting Elizabeth’s vocal fondness of him with questionable decisions, a time came where he decided to revolt against her.
Written by Nigel Williams and directed by Tom Hooper, the miniseries (which originally aired on the BBC Channel 4) does an exceptional job of portraying life in the 16th century, from the costumes and dialogue to some of it’s more undesirable punishments. As the queen, Mirren does an excellent job of portraying someone who forgoes her happiness for the sake of providing a good face to the crown, and when she’s given a chance to protect the crown, she loses her chance for happiness that was a lot safer and easier the second time around. And at the end of the miniseries, she is alone with few loyal friends and counsel, and even fewer hopes at living the life a woman perhaps wanted to lead at the time. Maybe this transfers over to her big screen role of playing Elizabeth II later this year in theaters, but we’ll see what happens.
Sadly the feature only comes with a 2 channel stereo track, not like the 5.1 soundtrack I think I was expecting (or might have been used to) during the original HD airings. Still, even with the 2-channel soundtrack, there’s a fair amount of surround activity and even some low end action to keep the subwoofer somewhat active.
Spread out over two discs, Elizabeth I appears in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen just like it originally aired. Now again, I’m slightly spoiled because I watched the whole thing on 1080 on the high definition HBO channel, so the layer of film grain was a bit of a thrower. But the image still holds up well and is reproduced quite accurately.
Sadly there isn’t a lot of new material here. There’s a making of on the production of the miniseries, and a piece on the real Elizabeth I, but that’s it, and that’s all.
Elizabeth I is a miniseries with outstanding performances and a good story that runs the course of it’s three and a half hours in length. Even with a novice follower of the era, this is definitely worth the time, and with HBO likely to reair it dozens of times over the next several months, do check it out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Special Features List
- Making of Featurette
- Historical Comparison Featurette