This or The Virgin Queen?
, 12 Jun 2008
The Virgin Queen (1955) is set from 1881 onwards and deals with a sort of love triangle between Elizabeth I, the ambitious Walter Raleigh and Beth Throgmorton, a lady in court.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) is set in 1895 and deals with love affair between Elizabeth I and the ambitious Earl of Essex, who is fancied by Lady Penlope Gray.
Bette Davis plays the fiery monarch in both movies. As you can see, the chronology is out of whack; she is meant to be older in the earlier film. But which is worth your time?
Ever the stickler for historical chronology, I began with The Virgin Queen. This really is more about the attempts by Walter Raleigh to ingratiate himself into the Queen's court so he can press forward his seafaring ambitions. Most of you, I'd wager, associate Raleigh with the Spanish Armada; Elizabeth's finest hour. Wrong! That was Sir Francis Drake, of course. Raleigh is famous for draping his cloak over a puddle for the Queen to walk across, and for heading for the US in the Golden Hind to bring back spices, in particular tobacco. Here he's played by Richard Todd, but though he looks the part, it calls for headstrong and passionate, qualities Todd lacks.
The Virgin Queen is typical of the 1950s, it looks sumptuous but is a total bore, it is a dead film. Much of it is about Raleigh's attempts to not fall foul of the Queen at court, while his rivals try to spite him, but it's the dreariest soap opera imaginable. His love for Lady Frogmorton (Joan Collins) falters as Collins is a bold, lusty vixen it seems more about simple lust than any higher calling.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex would surely be more fun? Well it is in a way, it has the typical Michael Curtiz Technicolour and it looks much like The Adventures of Robin Hood. But it's all dressed up with nowhere to go. Thematically it's very similar to The Virgin Queen and it quickly goes nowhere as the headstrong Essex (a strangely watery Flyn) continually gets into a quarrel with the Queen. It goes on an on in this vein. The 'affair' as such is fictional, and the film doesn't shrink from referring to her age. However, it's mighty odd to have an old woman mooning over a young virile soldier as though this is quite normal. The lack of chemistry between the two actors is a problem too. Otherwise it's mostly the same theme, as the court vipers try to come between them (including Raleigh, played here by Vincent Price - maybe the interim years made the sea captain go native!). There is more action here, and the climax has a tortuous resolution but for most of the movie, the two leads don't take it anywhere.
Olivia de Havilland has a thankless role as the lady in court who fancies Flynn - but is unrecipricated. She's as much a lusty figure as Joan Collins in The Virgin Queen and not at all like Maid Marion... Again, it's hard to discern any higher feeling here!
Bette Davis is something of a charicature but you can see that Miranda Richardson borrowed from it for Blackadder II - frankly she gave a better performance. Overall, however, Cate Blanchett in her first Elizabeth film trounces all of them.
- Was this review helpful to you?
(0) Yes |