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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex #BriFri

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex #BriFriWelcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish - reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!

Last week, I shared my discovery of Brit Movie Tours. Becky reviewed Great Expectations. Sim's expectations for her visit to Picadilly Circus didn't get met by the experience, this time. Jean reviewed two very different novels, The Long Earth (science fiction by Terry Pratchett) and The Lark (a book by E. Nesbit that would probably be categorized as YA, if that existed a hundred years ago).

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex tells a fictional story about Queen Elizabeth I and her relationship to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. The true part is that Lord Essex had a complicated series of ups and downs, in favor and out of favor with the queen. In real life, Lord Essex was 33 years younger than the queen. The conjecture of the film (where the two characters appear somewhat closer in age) was that the relationship was an on-again, off-again romance. Historians disagree on the likelihood of a sexual relationship between the two and no one knows for sure.

There are a lot of scenes where people throw themselves at Queen Elizabeth's skirts. Rarely was this done in genuine humility rather than manipulation of power. For the modern viewer, attempting to tease out the problematic feminist themes is tricky. Am I objecting to how Queen Elizabeth was treated in her lifetime or how 1930s American film makers interpreted that? Or, maybe my problems with it all comes from American democratic and anti-monarchy ideals.

Bette Davis was appropriately haughty and conflicted. Errol Flynn was pretty uselessly handsome. It was fun to see another film with Olivia de Haviland, who is 101 years old and still living in Paris. Since I last checked on her (review of The Adventures of Robin Hood), de Haviland filed suit against the makers of the TV series Feud about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. She claims that her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones is inaccurate and that her image was used without her permission. I also got a kick out of seeing a very young Vincent Price.

The exterior scenes in England and Ireland annoyed me. Technicolor was not helpful when you know how green those two countries are. California is way too brown to be an appropriate substitute.

For all the complaints, I did rather enjoy this film, probably about as much as The Guardian in their Reel History piece from 2008.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex #BriFri

About Joy Weese Moll

a librarian writing about books


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