I went to see Helen Mirren in the The Queen the day it opened here in Los Angeles. I don't know if it was because the advance reviews were good or if there's just a very well-organized group of royal watchers here in L.A., but the showing was completely packed. For me, seeing the feature film The Queen capped off a year of fantastic mini-series on the British Royal family, and especially about the current queen's namesake, Elizabeth I.
The series The Virgin Queen aired on public television's Masterpiece Theater in the U.S. This mini-series covered a large part of Elizabeth I's life, beginning with the years before she became queen. Prior to watching this series, I'd seen another PBS mini-series on the life of Elizabeth I's father, Henry VIII, which left off his story close to where The Virgin Queen began.
The two series complement each other, as they both emphasize the role of personal relationships and personal demons in the lives of the two monarchs. Henry VIII dealt with the issues that led to Henry's wifely turnover, and especially emphasized his passion for the fascinating Ann Boleyn. The Virgin Queen also focuses on passion, showing how Elizabeth's youthful infatuation with Robert Dudley becomes a liability once she becomes queen. This portrait of Elizabeth I's relationship with Dudley highlights both her vulnerabilities as a woman and the ways she wielded her sexual power.
After seeing the vibrant portrayal of Elizabeth I's youth in The Virgin Queen, it took time for me to adjust to Helen Mirren's portrayal of the regent in HBO's Elizabeth I. Although the two series depict many of the same events, the focus is quite different. The story hones in on the intergenerational romance between the aging queen and the son of her longtime love, Robert Dudley. I don't know how historically accurate the story is, but it is riveting as a psychological drama of an older woman in love with a much younger man.
Coming back again to Henry VIII, this spring Showtime is airing The Tudors, which looks a bit overheated but I'll probably watch it anyway. I might as well see two Henry mini-series to go with the two Elizabeth series. Actually, seeing these program made me want to go back and watch the PBS series Elizabeth R and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which aired in the early 70s during the first season of Masterpiece Theater.
I was a child when Elizabeth R and The Six Wives of Henry VIII aired, and much of the plot was over my head, but I studied the characters and I have fond memories of those shows as the kind of event television that doesn't really exist anymore. The programs seemed weighty and important, in the way the Oscars once were. I was intrigued by Henry's procession of wives, and the queer feeling that gripped me when Ann Boleyn exposed her long white neck as she bowed before the axe.