Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Elizabeth and Raleigh deserve better

We rented Elizabeth, the Golden Age and watched it last night. It was, well... disappointing.

Cate Blanchett was a great choice for Elizbeth, and Clive Owen for Raleigh. The costumes were fine, the scenery wonderful, the effects really inspiring.

I just wish to hell they'd had something to work with.

For those of us who remember, Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R is the gold standard. I realize that a movie-length treatment is not enough to portray an age so full of action as ER's reign, but did they have to spend so much time setting the mood that they dropped most of what made that age so fascinating?

Sir Francis Drake appears as a minor supporting character. Sir Phillip Sydney? Nowhere to be found. Edmund Spenser? Never heard of him.

Oh, but Dr. Dee the astrologer/wizard is in it.

OK, so it's only movie-length as I said. But this was about the defeat of the Spanish Armada for God's sake! You could have given Drake a little more screen time for that.

And of course, by focusing on Raleigh to the exclusion of Drake, they left out the marvelous anecdote of Drake steadfastly insisting on finishing the game of bowls with the Queen and her courtiers after the Armada was sighted off the coast.

Somewhere in the middle of the flick I realized that what I was missing was the language. They went out of their way to make a point that Raleigh (on the advice of Bess Throckmorton) was trying to avoid being a "flatterer" like everyone else around Elizabeth.

I think this misses an important point and leaves the movie poorer for it. Yes, the courtiers around Elizabeth addressed her in person and in letters in the most extravagant, worshipful way. Yes they wrote long eleagic poems to her. And yes, no doubt did so with hope of advancement.

We find that kind of effusive language embarrassing today, but this is now, that was then. And there's a lot of reason to believe that they genuinely adored their queen, indeed worshipped her with a near-idolatrous love.

Consider that this was a nation that had lately been Catholic, and had purged the worship of the Virgin Mary from their religion. Could it be that their Virgin Queen had largely replaced that figure in their hearts?

And what kind of men were these? Not crawling toadies by nature, but men who sailed into unknown seas in wooden ships. Men like Drake who "singed the beard of the King of Spain" not once, but three times.

(Check out the story of him sailing into the almost totally enclosed harbor at Cartagena with guns on all sides of him. And it is instructive to remember that navigation was still primitive, no means had then been found of determining longitude nor would be until the late 18th century.)

I could forgive a lot of this, just for the fantastic special effects in the battle with the Armada. But what really pissed me off was that they rewrote the speech at Tilbury dammit!

Was it Elizabeth's line about "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman..."? Was that erased from history because they were afraid of offending feminist sentiment?

Who the heck knows, but just because it's one of the most magnificent pre-battle speeches in history, I'm going to give it to you here and as a bonus, On the Death of Sir Walter Raleigh by the great English poet Anon, who was a witness to his execution by King James. Nobody remembers the legalistic reason he was executed and it probably doesn't matter. I myself think James gave him the chop was because Raleigh was so conspicuously the better man.

Elizabeth I Address to Her Troops at Tilbury; 1588

In 1588 Spain attempted to invade England with a huge armada of ships. Though the Armada was defeated at sea, it was feared that the Duke of Parma would still attempt an invasion with his land forces. Despite fears for her safety, Queen Elizabeth I resolved to visit her troops at Tilbury. The Earl of Leicester, when informed secretly of her plans, wrote, "Good sweet Queen, alter not your purpose." On August 8, 'full of princely resolution and more than feminine courage ... she passed like an Amazonian empress through all her army.' 'Lord bless you all,' she cried, as the men fell on their knees before her praying. The next day she reviewed the army and watched a mock battle. Afterwards she addressed them:

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself shall take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know, already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.

On the Death of Sir Walter Raleigh
(Some of the exotic punctuation and spelling modified)

Great Heart! Who taught thee to die?
Death yielding thee the victory.
Where tookst thou leave of life?
If here, how couldst thou be so far from fear?
For sure thou diedst and quitted the state,
Of flesh and blood before that fate.
Elst what a miracle were wrought, to triumph both in flesh and thought.
I saw in every stander-by, pale Death, life only in thine eye.
Farewell! Truth shall this story say,
We died. Thou only livest that day.

Note: Sorry, can't attribute the introduction. I have the text written down but not the author.


  • At 7:00 AM, Blogger Saint in Exile said…

    Though not for specific reasons like yours, I was frustrated after watching 300. The story of the Spartans fighting the Persians is a story that needs no embellishment. Throughout the movie I was continually wondering why Hollywood thought otherwise.


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