Kapur's Elizabeth. A coming-of-age story of a Queen

Master's Thesis, 2014

120 Pages, Grade: A



Part 1. Re-creating the Iconic Virgin Queen
Religion in England: Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I
1.1.1. Religion under the reign of Henry VIII
1.1.2. Religion under the reign of Mary Tudor
1.1.3 Religion under the reign of Elizabeth
1.2. Religious conflicts in Elizabeth: “The Burning of the Protestants”
1.2.1. Contextualizing Elizabeth in the first sequence “The beginning of the film”: history and aesthetics
1.2.2. Elizabeth consolidates Protestantism: “The Queen and her Bishops”
1.2.3. Temptations of love versus the demands of duty: “The Dance Sequence”

Par 2. From innocence to experience
2. 1. From youth to power: “Elizabeth adopts the persona of the Virgin Queen.”
2.1.1. Elizabeth’s transition from an innocent young woman to a powerful monarch
2.1.2 Reasons behind a transition War with Scotland
2.1.3 The final transition: “The closing sequence.”
2.2. The concept of Elizabeth’s virginity according to history and its application in Kapur’s Elizabeth and Westin’s historical novel The Virgin ’ s Daughters in the Court of Elizabeth I.
2.2.1. The Mother image of Elizabeth according to history and its application in Westin’s historical novel The Virgin ’ s Daughters in the Court of Elizabeth I.
2.2.2. Elizabeth as a Sacred Figure according to history
2.2.2. Elizabeth and marriage in Westin’s novel
2.2.3.Elizabeth and marriage according to history

Part 3. Codes and conventions of the Historical Film: Elizabeth within this genre
3.1. Elizabeth and the codes and conventions of the Historical Film
3.1.1 Codes and conventions
A display of pageantry: “Introducing the Duke of Anjou”
3.2. Who was the Duke of Anjou?
3.3. Dramatization in the Assassination attempt
3.4. Representation of Queen Elizabeth I in Portraits of the Period


Filmic representations of Elizabeth I


Primary sources

Secondary Sources

Part 1

1. Re-creating the Iconic Virgin Queen


The aim of this dissertation is to show that the film’s plot is built on the notion of religious, political, and emotional conflict by which Kapur creates obstacles for Elizabeth to overcome so that she is shown to become a powerful and independent monarch. The development that Kapur’s Elizabeth goes through in the film is a preparation for the transition that takes places at the end of the film: that is to say the metamorphosis from a woman subject to emotions to the iconic Virgin Queen.

Part one will examine closely the religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in England and Elizabeth’s policy concerning religion. Sects and secrecy together with plots and counterplots will be also examined as a part of the political conflict in the film. All along the film Elizabeth will be in an emotional conflict which for this study I will call “temptations of love versus the demands of duty” and will refer to it in the close examination of “The Dance Sequence.”

Part two will deal with Elizabeth’s transformation into the Virgin Queen. The factors that Kapur seems to suggest as reasons for Elizabeth’s change will be taken into account and the director’s understanding of the concept surrounding the term “virginity” will be clarified and compared with the representation of the queen as The Virgin Queen in history, contemporary literature and asthenic portraits of the period. We shall see how Elizabeth’s development in the film is related to thecostumes and make-up. I will refer to historical facts to suggest that the criticism about the mismatch of film with history is inappropriate. To evaluate the validity of this thesis, relevant statements of the director and other persons who were involved in the making of the film shall be taken into consideration.

Part three will present the Historical Film genre and locate Kapur’s Elizabeth in it. The notion of emotional conflict and temptations of love versus the demands of duty will be studied in the Introduction of the Duke of Anjou and the Gondola Sequence which illustrates what Elizabeth’s life might have been if she had had a husband. Once again the political conflict will be introduced through the assassination attempts from which Elizabeth narrowly escapes.

Religion in England: Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I.

The 1998 film Elizabeth, is a historical epic that takes place during and after the mid-16th- century period when England’s Princess Elizabeth was nearly eliminated by her half-sister, Queen Mary. It portrays the events of Mary’s death, Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, and the struggles and events that she must overcome in order to preserve the strength of the English Monarchy, and establish Protestantism as the only English religion. She must also maintain her stability and safety as a female ruler in a male-dominated society. In order to show that Elizabeth is a film built up on the notion of conflicts we need to pay attention to English history and the veracity of the historical events the film depicts. This chapter will examine religious conflicts between Catholic and Protestants during Elizabeth’s reign as shown in the film, the importance of religion and the way it affected Elizabeth’s opinions and politics. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants as shown in the film will be the guiding point for filmmakers so that they can introduce the element of intrigue and danger. We will see that Elizabeth wants to pass an Act of Uniformity which establishes a Protestant State Church and breaks up with Catholic Church and because of that she will be a victim of conspiracy and betrayal. Elizabeth will have to overcome the religious conflict as part of her development as a queen. To understand where this religious struggle comes from, it is necessary to focus on religion in Henry VIII’s, Mary’s and Elizabethan’s reign. Through the 1559 Religious Settlement as an Act of State, Elizabeth I established an equitable relationship between the Crown and the Church. She wanted to repair all the damages that had been caused within her kingdom in the previous decades under the name of religion. When Elizabeth ascended to the throne Catholics and Protestants were fighting for political power in England.

1.1.1. Religion under the reign of Henry VIII.

To make things clear we need to begin this study with Henry the VIII’s reign, the break with the papacy in Rome and the fact that he became The Supreme Head of the Church in England. “Between 1532 and 1534 seven bills were passed through parliament, each carefully designed to cut one of the threads which bound England to Rome”1. Historians explained that when Henry took the throne England was flourishing and could be described as “a determined egoist” (Moorman 161) who succeeded in getting what he wanted. His personal qualities can be seen in the next quotation:

The young prince certainly stepped into a rich heritage, for the cautions policy of his father had left him a kingdom far more united and self-confident than it had been for many a day. Young, clever handsome and debonair, he was already a great favourite with his people. (Moorman 161)

From here on we might conclude that Henry used his skills for the good of England. Thanks to his stubbornness, strength and brightness, he managed to cut the bonds with Rome so that he could govern his country in full autonomy. However, we may argue that he was not acting out of pure love for England but also for his own benefits, such as having the right to divorce. Henry was “acutely aware of the importance of securing a male heir during his reign” and “he was worried that he had only one surviving child, Mary, to show for his marriage to Catherine” (Moorman 168). In order to solve the problem he “asked Cardinal Wolsey to appeal to Pope Clement VII for an annulment and it soon became clear he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, who had been a lady-in-waiting to his first wife” (Moorman 168). Consequently, in 1533, Henry the VIII broke with the church and “married the now pregnant Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony [and] was excommunicated by the Pope” (Moorman 168).

As a conclusion we may say that Henry’s reign engendered a considerably degree of fear and doubt and distress. During the twenty years since the question of the divorce had been raised many great changes had taken place. The English Reformation had begun, “even though the king did not intend to establish a Protestant Church, change was inevitable” (Moorman 200) and the monasteries “which had been so familiar an aspect of the English Church, were deserted” (Moorman 197). We need to remember that the most important change was the rise of a new ecclesiastical figure, the king, as “Supreme Head of the Church of England with powers so great as even to include the definition of dogma” (Moorman 178).

1.1.2. Religion under the reign of Mary Tudor.

Moorman states in a previous chapter of his work The History of The English Church that: “from every point of views Mary’s reign was a failure. She had come to the throne with a sense of vocation and had tried to carry out the policy which she believed to be right in the eyes of God” (Moorman 197).

It is evident that she wanted to undo all that had been done by her father Henry and later by her brother Edward who reigned from the 28 January 1547 until his death 6 July1553. She wanted to restore the Church of England to catabolism and to re-establish communication with Rome. Moorman explains her failure thus:

In doctrinal matters many men had made up their minds where they stood, and they could not go back. If Marry had immediately succeeded her father in 1547, things would have been different, but the five years of Edward’s reign had seen changes which could not be suddenly reversed. (Moorman 197)

The most important change mentioned above is that England broke with the Papacy and by the time Mary took the throne many people were already Protestant. Moorman reminds us that “[Mary’s] Spanish marriage, however good the intentions which lay behind it had always been unpopular and had brought nothing but disaster and shame” (Moorman 197). English people, at this time, feared the power of Spain, Mary wanted to bring the two countries closer together. Williamson explains the people’s fear of Spain in his book The Tudor Age as he states that “the king of Spain-Philip II, [who] was also a very strong Catholic and the people of England greatly feared that he [Philip] would control England.”2 Mary became even more unpopular with her people when Philip engaged in a war with France and lost Calais.

1.1.3 Religion under the reign of Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth came to the throne “few people put much trust in this slim young woman of five -and - twenty, the daughter of Ann Boleyn; but all eyes were turned upon her as she took up the reins of government” (Moorman 178). This quotation reveals people’s inner fear that Elizabeth’s reign (1558-1603) might turn into a disaster. Because she was so young English people reacted with disbelief when Elizabeth took the throne. In addition, the Roman Catholic’s view of her parents’ marriage that it was illegal.

One of the reasons why Elizabeth was not trusted at the beginning might be the failure of Mary’s reign or John Knox’s3 assumption that “the monstrous regime of women” (Moorman 178) had come. On the surface, John Knox's work The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558) seems “a well-organized polemical attack on the regiment of Mary and other female Catholic Rulers of Europe motivated by religious descent.”4 Its point is stated in the opening proposition as it follows:

To promote a Woman to beare rule, superioritie, dominion, or empire above any Realme, Nation, or Citie, is repugnant to Nature; contumelie to God, a thing most contrarious to his reveled will and approved ordinance; and finallie, it is the subversion of good Order, of all equitie and justice.5

And further:

Nature, I say, doth paynt (women) further to be waeke, fraile, impacient, feble, and foolishe: and experience hathe declared them to be vnconstant, variable, cruell and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment…in the nature of all women, lurketh suche vices, as in good gournors are not tolerable.6

Thus it becomes clear that in Knox’s opinion “the feminine virtues to which a woman should aspire were fundamentally opposed to the virtues required of a ruler” (Hackett 38). The above citations suggest that women rulers were not considered as good rulers and should not deal with politics. In order to be more persuasive Knox uses argument such as God’s wish, this at the time was a rather good argument against women rulers. The women referred to in the above citation are Queen Mary Tudor and Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland but it is relevant for Elizabeth as well since she was a female ruler.

In order to repair what Mary had done “Elizabeth’s first Parliament met in January 1559 and proceeded to pass two acts of supreme importance-the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity which together form what is known as the Elizabethan Settlement” (Moorman 200). It abolished the jurisdiction in England of “any foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, spiritual or temporal, and imposed an oath upon all ecclesiastical and lay officials acknowledging Elizabeth not as ‘supreme head’ but as ‘supreme governor’ of both Church and State” (Moorman 200).

Elizabeth’s policy in public was “to keep the Church in England free from foreign influence, whether from Rome or Geneva” and to allow it “to develop on its own lines in accordance with the growing patriotism and national pride of which the queen herself so soon became the symbol” (Moorman 212).

1.2. Religious conflicts in Elizabeth: “The Burning of the Protestants”.

In order to show how the film represents the theme of religious conflict as it existed in 16th century England it is pertinent to examine the sequence of the film which would be called “The Burning of The Protestants”. In the opening scene, three Protestant heretics (Bishop Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and an unnamed woman) are burned at the stake under the order of the Duke of Norfolk, who is into of service of the ill Queen Mary. Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman state in their work The Myth of Elizabeth that the scene was “obviously [is] a largely fictitious version of a famous historical event” and that “there was no woman burnt alongside Latimer and Ridley”(Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman 255). The authors explain the addition of the female martyr as it fallows:

The female martyr’s presence in this scene allows the film to create a parallel administered make-over at the film’s conclusion. It is clearly significant that there is an emphasis in the film’s opening sequence on the physical violence the female martyr suffers at the hands of her male captor.7

Doran and Freeman also make a connection between this female martyr burnt at the stake and Elizabeth as they claim that “at the end of the film Elizabeth makes herself into an object to be consumed-here the audience is shown a person being forced to become just such an object” (Doran and Freeman 255). From their point of view the placement of a female at the stake reveals “the audience’s voyeuristic masculine gaze” (Doran and Freeman 256).

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In this close shot, the unnamed woman is in a central position so that the entire attention is on her. At the end of the film we see the resemblance between the woman martyr and Elizabeth when we have a shot of Elizabeth after she has cut her hair.

This sequence reminds us of horror movies as we see the martyrs burned. What is particular for this sequence is the fact that it is shot first from a high angle with the audience looking down on the martyrs. Thus the spectator has the impression that God looks down on them. Such a sequence placed at the beginning of the film is an extremely powerful and moving. It makes the viewer feel pity for the martyrs. The whole scene is extremely frightening, highly dramatic scene and it makes us feel horror. Whilst it is also shocking it makes us eager to know what will happen next. We have seen people burnt at the stake in many other films but they are usually shot from a low angle and objective camera so that a stage effect is created. In these films it is as if the spectator was part of the crowd watching the execution. On the contrary, in Kapur’s Elizabeth, the high angle shot symbolizes God’s view of the scene. We almost tend to hope that a supreme power will stop this horrific scene. The scene also creates the impression of the context of the time and suggests the danger people were faced with if they did not have the same religious belief as Mary Tudor.

However, there is also a stage effect in Kapur’s Elizabeth. It is reinforced by the opening of the big wooden gates. Once the door opens we are shown the martyrs who are shot from a high angle and from behind. The objective camera follows and creates the impression that we as spectators follow them.

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The presence of several crosses beautifully ornamented, the bible and the black robes of the priests immediately remind us of Catholicism (picture on the right). The sound is diegetic. We can hear people shouting, we also hear the priest preaching and the screams of the three Protestant who are about to be burnt. The whole scene calls on our visual and auditory senses. We can see their pain and agony in the burning flames; we can hear their terrible screams and calls for help. Through a dissolve we see them on the right and the priests on the left.

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Thanks to this close shot, we feel closer to the martyrs and because of the dissolve, we perceive the priest at the back as a source of danger. The smoke makes the scene seem blurred and the fact that the camera is placed so as to look through the flames creates an effect of confusion and fear. The editing is quite abrupt, through successive cuts we are shown the stake, and just after that we are presented with a child in the crowd watching the scene, followed by a medium close shot of the priest. Everyone, even the children are witnessing the burning of the “heretics”.

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The child has a questioning, puzzled expression on his face as if he could not really understand. One of the martyrs calls for help shouting “Help, I am burning too slow” (min.02.51) so the crowd gives them more wood to help them burn faster.

The people in the crowd seem as if they want to help them but they are chased away by the horsemen.

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Here, once again from a high angle shot we barely see the three human figures who are embraced by the flames. The composition of the shot is horizontal with the human figures at the centre. The sound is diegetic since we hear the crowd screaming and the martyrs crying out but there is also non-diegetic music. We hear an intensive music, the rhythm of which accelerates as people continue to scream. It looks rather a representation of hell fire.

As a conclusion I would say that the scene under study gives a vivid representation up the religious tension in England during Queen Mary’s reign and her desire to restore Catholicism. Thanks to it the spectator faces one of the main conflicts in the history of Britain: the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics. The scene is highly realistic as we are all well aware that many people died at the stake for their faith.

1.2.1. Contextualizing Elizabeth in the first sequence “The beginning of the film”: history and aesthetics.

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The aim of the analysis of the sequence which for this study will be called “The beginning of the film” is to show that filmmakers introduce the notion of religious conflict right from the start of the film. With the study of the sequence we will see that Elizabeth is a film that relays on its aesthetic properties and mixes art with history. The beginning of the film has two major contexts to set up. The context of the film as a historical film, part of a genre and the context of the historical period the film wishes to portray.According to Andrew Gibson the beginning of the film proves the hybridity of genres of Kapur’s Elizabeth because:

The opening sequence, for instance, is both highly stylized at the level of sound and image and, in the use of tittles giving historical information, a fragment from worthy educational drama. As such, it offers a heady mix of aesthetic pleasure and historical authenticity. (Higson 213)

Elizabeth is a historical film and as such we need to know that “the historical film cannot always easily be defined simply in terms of its narrative, therefore other features other features of the genre must be taken into account.”13 Chapman explains that the historical film has “a tendency to assert its own status ‘as history’ through the use of devices such as voice overs and title captions to establish the historical context of the narrative (date, place, events and so forth)” (Chapman 4).

A classical historical film might use a voice over to introduce the subject to the viewer and it might show images of places related to the period. Elizabeth uses a more innovated and dramatic approach. The beginning of the film conveys basic historical information as time, date, and political figures uses captions and images and colours. We are cautious of the notion of the religious conflict right from the start of the film because of crosses that divide and captions that introduce basic facts. Thanks to those captions we we know what we are watching and where we are. Images of Henry the VIII, Queen Marry and Elizabeth appear and disappear on the screen as they mix together with black crosses and a variation of red and black colours. The screen at first is black with only the credits standing out and the music in the background. Thus the spectator concentrates on the music. With the drums introduced the effect of tension and anxiety becomes disturbing for the spectator’s ear.

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The predominant red colour here speaks of tension and fear. Beginning the film in such a way makes us feel threat rather than just showing others fear. Black and red colours mingle together. Crosses emerge

from out of the background, together with the caption “Elizabeth” and “England 1554”.


The historical caption gives us the basic outlines of the historical period the film is related to. For example, the shot when the caption “the country is divided” appears and is followed by a shot of a

cross that splits into two and we see two crosses on each side of the screen. We are immediately reminded of the religious conflicts at the time and conclude that religion will be a central issue in the film.

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The music reaches its peak and suddenly stops followed by a black screen and the voice of a woman crying. The editing is abrupt and we jump from a predominantly red screen we are faced with the color black and silence. The colour black is often used to symbolize death. The threatening effect is predominant and the spectator feels as if dragged into of a terrible dream.

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The close shot on the letter with the death sentence of the martyrs seems scary because of the red seal stamp which reminds us of blood.

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From the various shots above we can see the agony of the three martyrs while guards cut their hair. Further on the process of cutting the hair is frightening and unpleasant to look at. It is highly shocking with the presence of blood, chains, knives and the desperate prays of the women and the three men. The lightning of the scene is poor.

To sum up we can say that the beginning of the film has a very contemporary form of aesthetics. The film aims to recreate the atmosphere of the period but not a visual authenticity, using colours which are not linked to reality. All these colours, shapes and movements form a kind of contemporary art and at the same time create a frightening atmosphere. The film calls on our visual and auditory senses. As the religious, non-diegetic music is chanted in a minor key the disturbing effect is reinforced right from the very start of the film. It suggests sadness, mystery, danger and nostalgia.

1.2.2. Elizabeth consolidates Protestantism: “The Queen and her Bishops”.

The theme of religious conflict is pursued as the film progresses. Elizabeth came to gain the throne through turmoil, and then maintained it through even greater conflict and opposition. The notion of conflict is present in this sequence in the form of an inner conflict in Elizabeth to stand up before her bishops and after the opening horrors and threat we are shown how she has to defend her decision to stick to her father’s reformation of the church passing the act of uniformity for a single and united Church of England. However Elizabeth is not only in conflict with herself but with her bishops and members of Parliament who are against the new Church. The screenplay of the film provides a series of hard-edged conversations in which Elizabeth’s enemies conspire against her, and her friends urgently counsel her while she teaches herself to tell true allies from false ones.

The sequence will show how the young queen manages to overcome her fears and gain the argument with her bishops. Furthermore, with the study of the “The Queen and her Bishops” sequence I will show how the film represents Elizabethan England as a world of court intrigues and political violence. Moreover, it shows the queen in a new light. Since we know Elizabeth is a queen we expect to see her as a strong character whereas in this sequence she is more or less vulnerable and confused but finally she manages to overcome her restlessness and face the bishops with strength and dignity. Throughout the sequence she is shown as seeking her voice when finally she overcomes her inner conflict and defends her opinion openly and thus finding her voice as a queen.

The editing of the sequence is abrupt. There are cuts from Elizabeth rehearsing her speech to images of the house of parliament where the members of Parliament and bishops are gathered.

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In one shot we see Elizabeth rehearsing, and this is immediately followed by another one of the House of Parliament, and filled with all the bishops dressed in black. The low angle shot on them enhances their threatening presence and with the opening of the door the spectator sees and feels what Elizabeth feels. Thanks to the cutting and the sudden change of scenes as if we are placed within Elizabeth’s imagination. We understand that she imagines her audience in the hall, waiting for her while she rehearses her speech in her chambers. The way of filming makes the scene dynamic for us because we see what she sees and we identify with her emotions and fears. We sympathize with her and feel closer to her. We are encouraged to experience her difficulties as if from within her and, in this way, the film creates the impression that although she is a queen she is real a person with emotions such as we have.


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The dominant black colour here creates an effect of rigidness, strictness and cold. Bishops and councilors stay in a line on both sides forming a path for Elizabeth.

There is a stage effect introduced by the opening of the doors and the forming of the path to the throne. The sense of mystery and anxiety is reinforced by the fact that we do not see Elizabeth walking. All we see is the black figures around her. The spectator feels as if he/she was the one being observed by the rigid figures. We feel a certain degree of fear. The bishops form a block while she is alone with no one to support her. They outnumber her in quantity and power. The tunnel they form leads to the throne and we understand that the throne is the ultimate goal for her but there will be a lot of obstacles to reach it and keep it. Once she has got there she will have to prove that she is worthy of her position.


The figure of the queen is dominant in the medium close shot on the right. She has her arms as if for a prayer and together with the white dress and the white background Elizabeth seems angelic and innocent. In the shot above she looks directly at the camera as if she were speaking to us. The above shot reminds us of contemporary cinematic film thanks to the direct look towards the camera. She looks very like a contemporary woman. To film a historical figure such as Elizabeth in a contemporary way reduces the distance between her and the spectator across time in relation with historical time.

The actual confrontation between the queen and her subjects is shot either from a high angle, which symbolizes God’s view, or from a long shot, which creates the effect of insignificance. Elizabeth is small and fragile in relation both to God and her subjects.

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The colours of the scene are dark: black, red and grey. She is in red which symbolizes passion, danger and blood. Bishops are in black which is the colour of death, as we saw with the black screen in shot: 43, but here is added to it the notion of power and order. Red symbolizes. In relation to colours one may say that bishops perhaps represent the past whilst she represents the future as blood symbolizes life. Beams of light fall on the queen’s throne and make her seem divine and glorious. She is in the light whereas they are in the dark. We might conclude that she sees clearly in the future and is the hope for change and prosperity. As the light is the sign of hope we may suppose that there is a chance for her to win this battle and prove that she is a queen worthy of admiration and love. As she is looking for unity and peace she represents enlightenment. The long shot makes her very small and apparently insignificant. Yet the lights illuminating her bring the spectator’s attention to the beautiful stained-glass windows and the divinity of the queen. We say that, here, the light symbolizes God, and as the beams of light fall directly on Elizabeth we may presume that she is the one who represents Him on earth, or who is protected by Him.


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In the beginning she looks uneasy in her attitude. She wants to win but she is apparently frightened. She fidgets on her chair and seeks for her voice and the right position.

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She repeats her speech exactly as she has rehearsed it but she sees that she cannot convince her audience. Elizabeth looks for her right line of attack and her strategy to win. Her first tactic is to try to shout the opponents down and show them that she is the one in power and that they must listen to her. When she sees this approach does not work she changes her strategy and turns to humour.

The use of a moving camera in this sequence reminds us of Higson’s statement about the use of a moving camera which “often seems to be looking through or around something at the proceedings (shooting through gauze and other materials, or round bars, stone carvings, or vast pillars” (Higson 227). This technique as Higson says is “Kapur’s signature,” (Higson 222) and in the case of “The Queen and the Bishop” sequence he films through dark human figures to create a frame and an effect of enclosure. He says that the following two shots “can be understood as artistically rather than narratively motivated” (Higson 227) but we may consider that they participate in creating an impression of Elizabeth’s very fragile position.

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The spectator is placed either in her position or in the position of the audience. From a medium close shot we see the shadows of the men and the queen in between. The spectator has the feeling that Elizabeth is trapped by the surrounding audience and she has no way to retreat. It is either she who win this confrontation or who will be destroyed by her enemies in court.

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The queen is on the right side of the medium close shot and the presence of the shadows is dominant in the shot. The sense of threat is omnipresent and the impression of fear is prevails.

Through witty remarks such as “How can I force you, I am a woman” (00.55.23min), “Common sense… which is the most English virtue” and so on, she manages to make her audience laugh and thus gains their affection. She uses two things they cannot deny. Firstly, she is a woman and, as such, is supposed to be weak and she plays with this idea secondly, they all share the famous English common sense which indicates that they are all part of one and the same thing.

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Through a semi subjective camera the spectator sees what Elizabeth sees. Once she has defused the atmosphere with jokes on marriage she seems more at ease and in control of the situation. The Parliament is still. With the main followers of Rome locked in the Tower the queen has all her chances to win the court’s sympathy and to pass the act of Uniformity. From her relaxed position we have the feeling that she enjoys her victory over them. Shot N: 35 reminds us of one of the previous shots (N: 30), where she is filmed from a low angle and in the distance with the beam of light falling on her, where she seems small and insignificant. In contrast here she is the dominant figure because she is shot from a slightly high angle and her audience is in the distance while she is in the foreground. Because they are sitting one may say that they are in a position of obedience.

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From a medium close shot

(36) we observe the queen smiling and triumphing. She has obtained what she wanted for the sake of England. Elizabeth enjoys her victory and then becomes serious with the vote. She shows that she uses jokes for a purpose and she never forgets her ultimate goal, to unite England. Her intentions are serious. She is wants to put an end to religious conflicts in the country. In the content of her discourse she comes back to the words “my people”, insisting on the fact that her guideline is the notion of the people of England and the welfare of her people. Her most important guiding idea is unity.

The sound throughout the sequence is diegetic. We can hear the angry voices from the crowd, clapping, hushing and laughing. With no extra diegetic music the sequence is extremely realistic. One concentrates on Elizabeth’s speech, feels her uncertainty at the beginning of her discourse and later feels her strength as she speaks.

We may conclude that Elizabeth is depicted as an expert strategist who never loses her guiding principles. The spectator realizes that the queen is very intelligent and devoted to her cause. The British people are made to feel proud of their former queen. That is no doubt why this part of the film is so popular because it calls on the spectators’ sense of nationalism and national pride. Elizabeth leads these men from disjunction to order, unity and harmony. Even in the last shot under study she leads them from a situation of visual disorder (they block the way at the beginning of the sequence) to visual order (they sit obediently and behave themselves).

1.2.3. Temptations of love versus the demands of duty: “The Dance Sequence”.

After examining some of the political conflicts in the previous chapter I will now focus on the temptations of love vs. the demands of duty. With the analysis of the following sequence we will realize that the Queen is in love and because of her precious feeling for Robert Dudley she is torn between her emotions and her duty as a queen of England. As Andrew Higson states in his work English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980 “Elizabeth is presented as a fairly complex multi-layered narrative, embracing as it does both a love story and a story of political intrigue and infighting, while at the same time trying to be reasonably faithful to history” (Higson 224).

The previous sequence showed Elizabeth in two different lights: as a vulnerable and confused young woman during the rehearsal of her speech, and later in the court as a witty, serious and dedicated ruler who thinks and cares for her people. Nonetheless Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley in the film received controversial reviews from critics and agitated historians who said that “to question Elizabeth’s virtue four hundred years after her death is not just a blackguardly slur upon a good, Christian woman, but an insult to our fathers who fought for her.”32 Historians’ biggest concern actually is the sex scene in which “the two bodies are naked, intertwined. Young lovers in the heat of passion, cocooned in the intimacy of a double bed from which the curtains cascade.”33 The modern spectator is well acquainted with such scenes in a Hollywood style but we should admit that the scene is highly controversial as it regards a historical figure who is known for her virginity. For the older generations such scenes might be regarded as improper. Many reviewers seem to think that “the film took some liberties with history” (Chapman 308) but the fact that she did not marry intrigued people, and cinema and literature has always enjoyed imagining her romances. For today’s audience it makes her seem more human and more contemporary.

Several critics remarked that Cate Blanchett resembles Queen Elizabeth a lot as she appears in her portraits saying, for example, that there is an “eerie resemblance to the portraiture images of Elizabeth” and that “physically, she’s so similar to the actual Elizabeth that it is like watching a ghost caught on film.” (Higson 247) To explain this resemblance, Jenny Shicore, a makeup artist, confesses: “we were consistent with the look of the period.

We went to the National Portrait gallery to find authentic pictures of Elizabeth. But we also had to make Elizabeth a ‘today’ girl for earlier scene” (Higson 247). Thanks to this quote, we might conclude that Kapur is conscious of the importance of Elizabeth for British people and that he wants to remain as accurate as possible. Kapur also realizes that each society changes in time so he needs to modernize Elizabeth’s image for the sake of cinema art and the contemporary public.

James Chapman reminds his readers that the choice of an Indian director to make a movie for a British icon such as Elizabeth might end up with some “aesthetic risks” (Chapman 302). He also uses a quotation from Michael Hirst to explain some of the reasons why Kapur was chosen to direct the film. Hirst states in his introduction of his work that “the script of Elizabeth that Kapur brought with him contained no preconceptions about Elizabeth” and further he explains that English people “without perhaps even being conscious of it, are protective about the image and the virginity of Elizabeth” (Chapman 302). Consequently, we may say that Elizabeth represented a different style of historical film in comparison to earlier representations of Elizabeth: It is a style that presents the queen in a new and fresh vision, a vision that helps the viewer to identify easily with her. Moreover, Alison Owen, a co-producer of the film, explained that Elizabeth’s story has “lots of parallels with modern twentieth century women, who are often faced with that choice between career and personal life. It is a dilemma many contemporary women are trying to resolve in their own lives, which Elizabeth had to face. She had to give up the chance of marriage and children to achieve stability in the country.”34 It might be possible that Kapur relied on this identification to appeal to a larger female public.

In order to develop the idea that Elisabeth is a film the narrative of which is built up on the notion of conflict I will proceed with an analysis of a sequence which for this study will be called “The Dance Sequence” and will deal with a new vision of Elizabeth. We will see a happy Elizabeth, who likes life in court and enjoys her youth, dances, laughs and shows her affection for Robert Dudley in private and public. I will first begin with Elizabeth as a young princess in the first dance sequence I am about to discuss and later as a queen in the second dance sequence in the court. The notion of an emotional conflict in the following sequence creates a tension in the spectator and we wonder if Elizabeth will be able to forget about her needs as a woman. Thanks to “The Dance Sequence” the spectator is conscious of the fact that Elizabeth as any other young woman has doubts and fears. She loves and needs to be loved but at the same time her sense of duty towards her country does not allow her to fully enjoy her youth and desires.

Kapur first 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. As he explained in one of his talks from the TED conference35, Kapur decided to show Elizabeth dancing in the introduction of Elizabeth to persuade the viewer in her innocence and to make us understand that “Elizabeth is a young, beautiful, joyful woman in love.”36

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


From a long shot we see Elizabeth with her ladies dancing in the fields. They are in a linear position and they seem as if they were floating in the fields. We hear their laughter which is quite fairy.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Her dress is very colourful and bright and except for a very few other scenes in the film this is the only occasion in which she wears her hair loose. Her dress is green and since green symbolizes nature and the natural world Elizabeth appears almost fairy-like. Her red shawl symbolizes her passion and youth and thanks to her loose hair she seems fresh and beautiful.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


In the close shot on her face, in a profile, she seems mysterious. Her dress has quite a low- neckline, in comparison to the dresses she wears later on, and it can be interpreted as a symbol for her youth but also for her awareness of her beauty and sexual attractiveness. Corresponding to that, this is also the scene where the audience learns that Elizabeth is in love with Robert Dudley.


1 John Moorman, A History of the Church in England (London: Adam and Charles Black,1973 ) 166 7

2 James A. Williamson, The Tudor Age (London: Longman,1979) 240

3 John Knox was a Scotish reformer who published a political work The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women in 1558. It attacks female monarchs, arguing that rule by females is contrary to the Bible. J.P. Kenyon, A Dictionary of British History (London: Secker and Warburg, 1981) 209.

4 Helen Hackett. Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. ( London: Macmillan Press LTD, 1995) 38

5 Rudolph P. Almasy, The Politics of Discourse in John Knox's the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Virginia: West Virginia University Philological Papers, 2001) Vol. 54 Consulted online http://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-306240603/the-politics-of-discourse-in-john-knox-s-the- first#articleDetails, 15/02/2014, at 16H05

6 Knox, online http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9660/9660-h/9660-h.htm, 07/04/2014, 19h08 10

7 Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman, The myth of Elizabeth (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) 255

8 Elizabeth. DVD. Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1998. Min.02.40

9 Elizabeth, Min. 01.02 12

10 Elizabeth, Min.03.22

11 Elizabeth, Min.02.50 13

12 Elizabeth, Min.02.54

13 James Chapman, Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film (London: I.B.Tauris,2005) 4

14 Elizabeth, Min. 00.53

15 Elizabeth, Min.00.58 16

16 Elizabeth, Min. 01.07

17 Elizabeth, Min. 01.16 17

18 Elizabeth, Min. 01.31

19 Elizabeth, Min. 01.38

20 Elizabeth, Min. 01.36 18

21 Elizabeth, Min. 01.40

22 Elizabeth, Min. 50:40 20

23 Elizabeth, Min. 50:26

24 Elizabeth, Min. 51:08

25 Elizabeth, Min. 50:51 22

26 Elizabeth, Min. 51:46

27 Elizabeth, Min. 52:37 23

28 Elizabeth, Min. 52:15 24

29 Elizabeth, Min. 52:45

30 Elizabeth, Min. 54:49 25

31 Elizabeth, Min. 55:00 26

32 Quote from anonymous quoted in Chapman, 6

33 Viewers comment quoted in Higson, 253 27

34 David Walsh, Elizabeth and A Weakened Historical Sense (World Socialist Web Site,3 December 1998) Online, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1998/12/eliz-d03.html 18/02/2012, 21h45

35 TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. (consulted on the official website of TED: http://www.ted.com/)

36 Shekhar Kapur. We are the Stories we Tell Ourselves. April 1, 2010 transcription from a video online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZxLsDkvkVQ

37 Elizabeth, Min. 06:46

38 Elizabeth, Min. 06: 53

39 Elizabeth, Min. 07:14 30

Excerpt out of 120 pages


Kapur's Elizabeth. A coming-of-age story of a Queen
Université Toulouse II - Le Mirail  (English Department)
Master in English Studies and British Cinema Studies.
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Many of the passages in your mémoire were convincing. The idea of Elizabeth’s transformation into a statue was very nicely done, for example. You are at your best when you offer close analyses of stills from the film to show how the camera angles and composition vehicles precise impressions. You have the right idea when you analyse the symbolism of colors or jewels.All in all, I would say that this work shows a lot of promise. It’s potentially a very big subject.
kapur, elizabeth, queen
Quote paper
Lora Cvetanova (Author), 2014, Kapur's Elizabeth. A coming-of-age story of a Queen, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/278329


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