Presenting the creation of an icon - Shekhar Kapur’s "Elizabeth"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010
12 Pages, Grade: 1.3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Kapur’s intentions

3. Creating the icon of the ‚Virgin Queen’
3.1 Filmic display of Elizabeth’s development
3.2 Reasons Kapur provides for the change

4. The concept of virginity

5. Conclusion

6. Sources

1. Introduction

When Shekhar Kapur is asked why he, as an Indian, made a film about Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most important rulers of England, the answer – as ever so often – might be that it was in his destiny. To make a film about culture that is so different from one’s own background requires a great deal of sensitivity. Yet history always depends on the interpretation of given facts and personal ideas always play a role in an interpretation. This could be one reason why Kapur’s Elizabeth and his interpretation of the queen’s development into the icon she is perceived as today, raised many voices of praise as well as criticism.

Elizabeth was an immediate success when it went on screen in 1998. Since then the film has been nominated for several awards and the ones that it received mostly valued the achievements of the director, the make-up artists and Cate Blanchett, who played the role of

Elizabeth I.[1] Critics argued that the film “plays fast and loose with historical fact“[2] and the romance between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is interpreted as reinforcement of “the idea of [Elizabeth] as a very weak and flighty character who often showed terrible judgment.”[3]

The aim of this paper is to show that the development that Kapur’s Elizabeth goes through in the film is a preparation for the transition that takes places in the end. Relying on that, I would argue that the criticism about the mismatch of film and history in Kapur's Elizabeth is inappropriate.

To evaluate the validity of this thesis, relevant statements of the director and other persons that were involved in the making of the film shall be taken into consideration. Also the presentation of Elizabeth’s development in the film as such, especially concerning costumes and make-up, will be analysed. In the following the factors that Kapur suggest as reasons for Elizabeth’s change shall be examined and the director’s understanding of the concept surrounding the term ‘virginity’ will be clarified. Finally the results of this attempt to understand Kapur’s aims and his understanding of the development of the icon Elizabeth I. will be summarized in the conclusion.

2. Kapur’s intentions

In the Making of that is included on the DVD, Shekhar Kapur describes quite distinct, what he tried to reach with this film about Elizabeth I. He states that he looked at the icon she is perceived as today and tried to make a film about what were possible factors that led to her becoming the woman and the queen that we still remember. For the director the movie is “an interpretation, not of history, but of personality, [and] of what went into the making of the icon.”[4] In fact, Kapur never wanted to make a film that was historically correct but tried to show his view of a woman’s journey “from youth […] and love to ruthlessness and power.”[5] This is a distinguishing feature of the film, since it does not, like other productions about the life of Elizabeth I,[6] claim to deal with all aspects of her life. This film deals particularly with the question why Elizabeth became the Virgin Queen.

3. Creating the icon of the ‚Virgin Queen’

According to the director, the film can be subdivided into seven stages. These stages are among other things illustrated with the help of costumes and make-up.[7] Unfortunately, Shekhar Kapur does not directly state all of these stages. In his audio commentary to the film he elaborates in great detail on some stages whereas others are not directly referred to. Therefore the division of the following stages partly depend on my personal interpretation of Elizabeth’s development throughout the film.

3.1 Filmic display of Elizabeth’s development

Stage one: England under the reign of Queen Mary / Young Elizabeth

Kapur introduces the young Princess Elizabeth by showing her dancing in the open countryside. This scene functions as a contrast to the dark surroundings in which Queen Mary has been introduced before and it also stresses Elizabeth’s liveliness and natural beauty. Her dress is very colourful and bright and except for very few other scenes in the film this is the only stage in which she wears her hair open. This, together with the fact that her dress still has quite a low neckline, could be interpreted as symbols for her youth but also for her awareness of her beauty and sexuality.

Corresponding to that, this is also the scene in which the audience learns that Elizabeth is in love with Robert Dudley. The two of them are shown dancing in a private setting and the way they move and obviously savour the moment intensifies the impression that they have a very sensual relationship. Reflecting the way how Elizabeth as a person is presented, it is important to mention that she often looks quite vulnerable and unsure in this stage. The viewer witnesses the unstable conditions under which Elizabeth has to spend the final days of her youth. Accused of treason, she is brought to the Tower, where she is close to being executed. It is conveyed that a conversation with her half-sister Mary allows her to return to Hatfield.

Stage two: Becoming queen / the coronation

The dresses that Elizabeth wears in this stage are more splendid than before and underline her feminine charms even more. Her make-up has not changed, yet there is a difference in her facial expressions. When receiving the news of her sister’s death and her resulting accession to the throne, Elizabeth seems more composed and certain than before. This impression is intensified during the coronation. She seems self-confident but obviously still has every reason to be unsure about her future. The costume Cate Blanchett wears for the coronation is based on a portrait that shows Elizabeth I at this particular event. It has to be mentioned that Shekhar Kapur wanted to point out that at this stage Elizabeth finds out that, as she is now queen, she cannot reach Dudley as easily as before. She has to adapt to her new role and cannot choose freely anymore. This emotional conflict is one of the character’s mayor problems and dealt with throughout the film.

Stage three: War with Scotland / A queen’s responsibility

In the film Elizabeth faces an upcoming war with Scotland shortly after her accession. Though this is not a historical fact it functions as a further step in the development of the queen. Her council pushes her for a decision and everyone, except Walsingham, who is not a member of the council, support a war with Scotland. Elizabeth follows the advice of her counsellors against her own conviction. This is underlined by her saying “I don’t like wars. They have uncertain outcomes.”[8]


[1] Cf. "Elizabeth. Awards." 2 September 2010 < 173470/ awards>.

[2] Cf. Levin, Carole. "Elizabeth: Romantic Film Heroine or Sixteenth-Century Queen?" 24 January 2008. American Historical Association. 2 September 2010 <>.

[3] ibid.

[4] Cf. Shekhar Kapur, Director. The Making of Elizabeth . DVD. Min. 0:50.

[5] Cf. Audio Commentary. Elizabeth. Special Edition. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. 1998. DVD. Universal Pictures, 2007. Min. 1:37 – 1:48

[6] Reference to: Andrew Dix. Elizabeth R. BBC, 1971.

[7] Cf. Audio Commentary. Elizabeth. Special Edition. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. 1998. DVD. Universal Pictures, 2007. Min. 32:00.

[8] Cf. Elizabeth. Special Edition. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. 1998. DVD. Universal Pictures, 2007. Min. 41:49.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Presenting the creation of an icon - Shekhar Kapur’s "Elizabeth"
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Representing Elizabeth I.
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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472 KB
Elizabeth I., Virgin Queen, Shekhar Kapur
Quote paper
Janine Börstler (Author), 2010, Presenting the creation of an icon - Shekhar Kapur’s "Elizabeth", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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