I finished (re)watching Elizabeth R last night. It's always a pleasure to watch older British TV adaptations and dramatizations. They genuinely don't make them like that any more. Will there ever be a better Claudius than Derek Jacobi? A better Miss Marple than Joan Hickson? A better Sherlock Holmes than Jeremy Brett? It's doubtful.
So, in my mind, Dame Glenda Jackson will always be the definitive Elizabeth. She's picked up a couple of Academy Awards in her time, been a forthright politician, and was such a good match for the role of Elizabeth I she played her on the small screen in Elizabeth R and also on the big screen in Mary, Queen of Scots. She is, in brief, utterly, seemingly effortlessly, spellbindingly magnificent.
Elizabeth R is, of course, the BBC dramatization of the life of Elizabeth I. Six feature length episodes depict significant events in her life. Her ascension to the throne; her love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; her forays towards political marriage; the conspiracies and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; the Spanish Armada; and her relationship with the Earl of Essex and death. Unlike the movies starring Cate Blanchett, (who was, admittedly, fantastic in the role too), Elizabeth R is rich in historical detail. The supporting cast equally bring other figures from Elizabeth's court to life - Robert Hardy's a playful, bullish Dudley, Ronald Hines and Stephen Murray impressive as Burghley and Walsingham.
It's Michael Williams as the Duc d'Alencon who I love the most, though. He's only in one episode, but he's such a lovable rogue, he perfectly depicts Elizabeth's happy "frog".
The production quality's a bit dated and it's notable that all the big battle scenes take place off-screen, but the costuming and sets still look rich and sumptuous and sometimes the relatively low budget's a strength rather than a weakness, meaning the characters are the focus, not the big events. There's a lovely moment, for example, where Elizabeth's rousing speech at Tilbury in preparation for invasion by the Armada ("I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too") is seen from the perspective of two of the common soldiery, with their commentary and asides.
If you've never seen it and are interested in the life and character of Elizabeth, I can't recommend it highly enough.
And it seems like the whole thing is up on Youtube. So, no excuses there.