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Elizabeth I: which actress do you prefer?


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#1 dirac

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 12:17 PM

This topic takes off from some remarks made by SandyMcKean and others in the Oscar nominations thread. There have been in recent years a plethora of Elizabeths on television and in film. I thought I'd ask BTers which Glorianas they've seen, who they preferred in the role, and why?

#2 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 01:03 PM

bette, bette, bette!

#3 bart

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 01:14 PM

Each generation imposes its own aesthetic on Elizabeth.

Whether it's Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, or Cate Blanchett -- the performance, script, and the art direction tell you more about the 30s, 70s, and turn of the century Hollywood than about the character or the situations in which she found herself.

For class, intelligence, guts, and command of language -- and because she's surrounded by amazing character actors -- I'd say Glenda Jackson. She's the Elizabeth I'd like to believe in.

#4 SandyMcKean

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 02:43 PM

I've got to go with bart. Movies so reflect the times in which they are made, and the technology available at the time, that it may be foolish to compare these great movies. For example, Bettie Davis is not my favorite Elizabeth. I don't say that because others have been better actresses, or because some other screen play was better, or what have you. I just find Davis too, too much in the role. To my modern tastes she over-acts; she is not enough "ordinary human in extraordinary circumstances" for me. I greatly enjoy watching Davis in that 1939 (I think) movie, but if I saw a 2007 movie with that performance I would pan it like crazy; but in its context, I find it wonderful.

Today my favorites in order are: Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff, Blanchette, Jackson, Davis. Nicely reflects chronology, yes? So at least I'm consistent.

Now it be inconsistent :blush:.......I think Mirren is simply the best actress. Her performances are big like the rest, but she adds a stublety of detail that I find unsurpassed (but then I am heavily influenced by all the other characters she has done -- all of which I love). I marvelled at Anne-Marie Duff doing QE1's entire life from a young flirt to a dying crank. Maybe I just plain fell in love with Cate Blanchette......hard for a male not to do......the spectacle of the movie's production value was outstanding too. Jackson was powerful and had 6 hours to do it in; I admire what must have been a break-thru performance at the time -- that Jackson series was way ahead of its time I think.

#5 Helene

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 03:13 PM

Just as an aside, in Tuesday's New York Times crossword puzzle:

3 down: 1998 role for Cate Blanchett

Answer: ELIZABETHI

#6 bart

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 03:32 PM

Today my favorites in order are: Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff, Blanchette, Jackson, Davis. Nicely reflects chronology, yes? So at least I'm consistent.

I forgot Mirren, and thanks for reminding me. It's a lovely performance, revealing an inner life and showing an introspective, human Elizabeth that is often omitted in costume dramas.

When I saw this I had some real disagreements with the way events and motivations were presented in the script, but I've forgotten what they were. :blush: However, a couple of thoughts still prevent me from putting Mirren on top of my list:

1) The small budget shows. This is not a major Renaissance queen. The stage on which she performs most of the time -- her court -- is small. There are hardly any flesh-and-blood characters, and Mirren has no one to play against. Even her Dudley and Essex are mere sketches with no weight as public men.

Just as serious, the few attempts to open things up for important and historically "real" public events are skimpy. (Am I correct in remembering that there is no speech to the troops at Tilbury prior to the descent of the Spanish Armada? Now that's an opportunity wasted!)

I have the feeling that the limitations of the production have defined the role just as much as Mirren could.

2) Mirren is too old for the first half of the story line. There are cunning attempts to disguise this. I think we need to see Elizabeth as a young, robust woman to understand much of the sexual politics and the constant suggestion of scandal or potential scandal that surrounded the historical Elizabeth for much of her life.

Mirren is my favorite English-speaking screen actress, but as Elizabeths go, I prefer her deeply moving Elizabeth II.

#7 dirac

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 04:31 PM

greatly enjoy watching Davis in that 1939 (I think) movie, but if I saw a 2007 movie with that performance I would pan it like crazy; but in its context, I find it wonderful.


Davis played Elizabeth twice: in 1939 and again in the fifties in a picture called “The Virgin Queen” with Richard Todd, I think it was, and Joan Collins as Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth Throckmorton. She’s great in both but the second performance is better. I admire her combination of imperiousness and humanity and I think she is still the definitive big-screen Elizabeth; she influenced many Elizabeths that followed, Beverly Sills being only the most obvious example, even if they were reacting against her rather than imitating her.

For class, intelligence, guts, and command of language -- and because she's surrounded by amazing character actors -- I'd say Glenda Jackson. She's the Elizabeth I'd like to believe in.


Jackson was great in the BBC series and my favorite Elizabeth after Davis, although as SandyMcKean notes, she had six hours, giving her more time and detail to flesh out her characterization. (She was far less impressive in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ with Vanessa Redgrave as Mary but the movie itself is awful and the conception of Elizabeth absurd, so it’s no reflection on her.) We’re also accustomed to higher production values and more imaginative filmmaking in our miniseries these days, although the BBC series is wonderfully well written in a refreshingly unsensational way and the cast as bart notes is splendid, although Robert Hardy as Leicester should have gone easier on the rouge.

I marvelled at Anne-Marie Duff doing QE1's entire life from a young flirt to a dying crank.


I liked Duff, although I imagine Elizabeth was rather prettier, but I found the series to be mostly unwatchable. The writer(s) seemed to be unable to cope with the likelihood that Elizabeth never had sex, and their efforts to get their minds around this gruesome fact made for some ludicrous moments.

Mirren is too old for the first half of the story line. There are cunning attempts to disguise this.


That’s right. It seems silly for everyone to be discussing the marriage prospects and potential fertility of this obviously menopausal woman.

Blanchett was wonderful in the 1998 film. Allowing for the concept – the newly crowned Elizabeth as Michael Corleone – I thought her evocation of a young and uncertain Elizabeth touching and believable, and a true star-making performance. It’s genuinely moving when this vital girl has to shed a part of her humanity to assume the mask of Gloriana, and although the movie’s connection with the chronological facts is close to accidental, the portrait of Elizabeth is convincing.

#8 bart

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 05:27 PM

I've only seen the first of Blanchett's two Elizabeths. The imagery of the film is indeed striking. Blanchett is stunning. Here's a link to the Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth (unattributed), which gives an idea of the iconographic influences that were studied and incorporated into Blanchett's "look."

http://imagecache2.a...559-Posters.jpg

Nicholas Hilliard's "Pelican Portrait," dating from a decade before the Armada story which is at the heart of the second film, is here: http://www.liverpool...s/large/er1.jpg

And here's another icon from the period before her involvement with Essex, painted by Marcus Gheeraerts:
http://www.marileeco...ethditchley.jpg

Here she is a few years before her death:
http://www.corsham-c.../Elizabeth.html

While looking for online images I came across the following site which gathers together numerous portraits of Elizabeth I -- and, indeed, many other English rulers. It's worth checking out if you like British history:
http://www.marileeco...iz1-images.html

Roy Strong's excellent book on the portraits of Elizabeth I, Gloriana, doesn't seem to be available in the inexpensive paperback at Amazon. But it is at Barnes and Noble:
http://search.barnes...c...2609449&z=y


On the whole, I enjoy all the Elizabeth films -- and the performances -- more if I follow the lead of Janet Maslin, who reviewed the first Blanchett Elizabeth in the NY Times back in 1998.

As when Leonardo DiCaprio (in ''The Man in the Iron Mask'') and Isabelle Adjani (in ''Queen Margot'') reigned in France, the captivating Cate Blanchett rules England in ''Elizabeth'' as if the monarch's principal responsibilities were being bejeweled, choosing consorts and saying ''Leave us!'' with a wave of the hand.

This is indeed historical drama for anyone whose idea of history is back issues of Vogue, but ''Elizabeth'' wants more.



#9 glebb

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 09:18 PM

Though I have nothing against Blanchett, Robson, Worth and Mirren (kind of love Mirren), Glenda Jackson is my favorite Elizabeth I.
I just adore ELIZABETH R.

How about Mary Stuart?
Katherine Hepurn?
Vanessa Redgrave?
Vivian Pickles?
Barbara Fynn?
or
Samantha Morton?

#10 bart

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 04:00 AM

How about Mary Stuart?
Katherine Hepurn?
Vanessa Redgrave?
Vivian Pickles?
Barbara Fynn?
or
Samantha Morton?

Vivian Pickles was probably more like the later Mary, middle-aged, overweight, unwell, grim and fanatic about the injustices done to her and about her religion. But I go for Redgrave, one of the most vital and beautiful film actresses when youngh (when the film was made) and at all stages of her life.

That amazing opening scene with the teenage Mary running the the garden at Chenonceau! The shock of the way she reveals her scarlet underdress just before her execution. It's an over-sentimentalized and overly-episodic film, with on-and-off accuracy, and its main goal is to exploit and contribute to the myth. But its stunning.

Jackson-lovers get a bonus: a long scene between Elizabeth and the imprisoned Mary, entirely fictional, but good, grand drama nonetheless.

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 04:02 AM

And what of Flora Robson, Fire over England (1937)? There's even some footage left of the necessarily silent Sarah Bernhardt as Elizabeth.

#12 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 08:05 AM

http://cache.viewima...55A1E4F32AD3138

#13 FauxPas

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 08:45 AM

The Sarah Bernhardt "Queen Elizabeth" ("Les Amours de la Reine Elisabeth") 1912 silent was available complete on VHS years back and I viewed it at a library. It is kind of hilarious, kind of fascinating and at times very suggestive. Describing the other Elizabeths as reflecting the periods and fashions in which the films were shot, this Elizabeth looks very art nouveau. Bernhardt wears a kind of long, flowing, loose, bohemian night-dress thing that is accented with a ruff and jeweled overcoat. Her hair is in the curly coif that she usually wore in daily life but topped with a heavy crown. Kind of Elizabethan meets turn of the last century French bohemian.

I am sure this was filmed before she had her leg amputated but she enters on a litter and gesticulates wildly like she is semaphoring to someone 50 yards away. Bernhardt has enormous energy and is always kept center stage. The camera is stationary and everyone enters and exits like they are onstage. The supporting actors (all quite bad) act as if they are onstage with a very presentational, gestural kind of technique - lots of Delsarte posing. Bernhardt seems more spontaneous and wild, thrashing about in paroxysms of emotion. The others look mechanical and inhuman like marionettes or puppets.

Her best scene is over the corpse of the beheaded Essex (tall, leggy Lou Tellegen - her Dutch boy-toy discovery). His head is magically restored to his body and he lies on a bier, Elizabeth enters, mourns over his corpse and notices the ring that would have gained his pardon is missing (stolen by the jealous husband of a rival). Bernhardt has a speech which she is obviously reciting to the deaf camera in toto but there is a simplicity and intimacy of expression here. You can almost hear the silvery voice and see the feminine magic in her eyes and tilt of the head as she draws you in. Here she is still and working more internally and less presentationally, so the camera captures her acting style better.

The last scene has Elizabeth entering the throne room and mounting the dais which for reasons that eventually become clear has the floor strewn with large pillows like a hippy living room or harem. Bernhardt is clearly delivering a final tirade in alexandrines bewailing the futility of power when love has been destroyed and all hope of personal happiness is gone. Her arms thrust upward and outward until she has a final paroxysm and falls face down dead on the conveniently placed large pillows anachronistically strewn about on the floor.

Finis.

#14 papeetepatrick

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 09:07 AM

You get to see a little of Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in 'Elizabeth the Queen' at the beginning of their one movie 'The Guardsmen.' The Broadway play by Maxwell Anderson had run 147 or so performances a year or two prior to the filming.

#15 dirac

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Posted 25 January 2008 - 10:53 AM

And what of Flora Robson, Fire over England (1937)?


Thanks, Mel. I thought she was a little out of her depth. I can do no better than quote Gore Vidal on the performance: “’I am England!’” she thunders; and then looks around to see if anyone has come to take her away.” I did like that cute couple, I think their names were Olivier and Leigh?

There is also Florence Eldridge as Elizabeth in the Hepburn picture, “Mary of Scotland,” playing the Queen as a double dyed villain complete with shifty eyes and a nasty laugh.

Respectfully, bart, I disagree; the Mary Queen of Scots picture with Redgrave is lousy on pretty much every level. Not only unusually bad history, but I despise it in particular for its portrayal of Elizabeth as a frustrated hag versus the beautiful and feminine Mary, who we’re meant to see as a Real Woman. (That she’s an incompetent monarch is apparently supposed to add to her appeal.) That was okay in the nineteenth century, but a trifle backward for the Sixties. Then you add on the somnolent direction and clunky dialogue....I thought it was chloroform, and I have a weakness for the Hal Wallis brand of costumed fustian.

As when Leonardo DiCaprio (in ''The Man in the Iron Mask'') and Isabelle Adjani (in ''Queen Margot'') reigned in France, the captivating Cate Blanchett rules England in ''Elizabeth'' as if the monarch's principal responsibilities were being bejeweled, choosing consorts and saying ''Leave us!'' with a wave of the hand.


The movie is like that in places, as Maslin notes, but I also thought the atmosphere of fear and paranoia was well evoked. “The Golden Age” actually fits her description better. I like “Elizabeth,” what can I say. And the sexiest scene in a 1998 movie involved a fully clothed Blanchett and Joseph Fiennes in circling each other during a volta front of Elizabeth's entire court.

THANK YOU, FauxPas, for that long and excellent description of the Bernhardt film. I’ve never seen it. I’m not certain, but I believe she had lost her leg by the time of filming.

(tall, leggy Lou Tellegen - her Dutch boy-toy discovery).


His autobiography was called “Women Have Been Kind” and one critic suggested he should have appended “of Dumb” to the title. I think he killed himself with a scissors, poor fellow.

How about Mary Stuart?


Oh, personal prejudice, glebb. I just can’t stand her. Kidding. :)


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