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This film tells the story of the early days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (although, it should be noted that there are a number of historical inaccuracies). Starting from when Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is imprisoned by her older sister Mary, Queen of England, the film depicts Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne upon Mary’s death.  When she is made Queen, Elizabeth’s reign is shaky with a lot of opposition to her Protestant religion, and there are traitors in her midst. Her advisor William Cecil urges her to marry and have a child, in order to secure her position as Queen, and there are suitors from the French and Spanish aristocracies (indeed, the King of Spain offers his hand to Elizabeth).  However, she continues an affair with her childhood sweetheart Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), which she later breaks off when she discovers that he is already married (in the true version of events, Elizabeth was well aware that Robert was married, and she actually attended his wedding; neither did he betray her in real life, as he did in the movie by committing treason against her.  He remained a loyal servant throughout his life).  Eventually she turns down all offers of marriage and declares herself married only to England.  She is shown cutting off all her hair and adopting the persona of the Virgin Queen (in real life, she did not cut her hair, although she did wear a wig later in life, due to her hair thinning after a bout of smallpox).

Despite the historical inaccuracies – many of which are clearly in place because they make the film more watchable and dramatic than the true version of events – this is a very compelling film and I found that I did not want to stop watching at all.

Cate Blanchett is of course excellent as Queen Elizabeth, initially showing the sense of fun which the queen had as a young girl.  However, disappointments and betrayals by those she trusts cause her to lose her somewhat carefree nature and harden her heart.  This is all shown very well, as is Elizabeth’s determination and inner strength, at a time when women were not considered to be worthy of having an opinion.  Vincent Cassel is also worthy of note as Henry III of France, one of the potential suitors.  He provides some moments of comic relief throughout the film, as he is depicted as fun loving, flamboyant and rather outrageous.  Joseph Fiennes is fine as Robert Dudley, but the best supporting actor is surely Christopher Eccleston, as the queen’s traitorous cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, who considers Elizabeth to be a heretic.  There were some unusual casting choices however; I was most surprised to see Eric Cantona playing a French Ambassador.  Maybe because he is such a well known face, I found him hard to believe in in this role.  I also believe that Kathy Burke (who is a superb actress) was miscast as Queen Mary.  Again however, this may be because people are so used to seeing her in completely different roles.

Overall however, this was a fascinating and engrossing film, and I look forward to watching the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Years, very soon.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Writer: Michael Hirst

Main cast: Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston

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Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous Queens of England. Typically in literature she is described as the manipulative schemer who lured Henry VIII from his devoted wife Katharine of Aragon and later met her death on (probably trumped up) charges of Adultery, Incest and Treason.

In this book, Denny presents a different view of Anne, as a victim of Henry’s cold blooded-ness.  She asserts that Henry relentlessly pursued Anne, who resisted because of his marriage to Katharine.  Anne finally succumbed to Henry’s advances and was then cast aside when it no longer suited him to be married to her.

The book is written in a very ‘readable’ way.  I often find non-fiction to be somewhat dry; however this book flowed easily and held my interest throughout.

It has obviously been very well researched, and Denny is clearly a Boleyn enthusiast, with a lot of passion for her subject.  However, this is a double edged sword.  While I firmly believe that it is important for any biographer to really care about their subject, Denny’s own view means that this book is extremely biased.  Katharine of Aragon is described as a vicious, manipulative and unreasonable woman, who lied to fulfill her ambition to become Queen of England.  Anne is painted almost as a saint, who could do no wrong and was blameless in every respect.

Joanna Denny wrote this book to bring balance to the general view of Anne; however, she has not created balance but has merely tipped the scales all the way to the other side.  She claims that the critics of Anne are biased – and this may well be true – but unfortunately, Denny shows herself to be equally as biased.  The women in Anne’s world are portrayed as evil and two faced, with the exception of Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Anne or the Tudor period, but I do not think that this book is ‘the truth’ about Anne Boleyn, as the author claims.

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This is the story of Anne Boleyn, told through the eyes of her sister Mary.  As a young girl, Mary finds herself manipulated by her avaricious family to become King Henry VIII’s lover, with an end to usurping Queen Katherine of Aragon.  The Boleyn’s believe that if Mary becomes queen, they will be vastly elevated in terms of wealth and social status.  Even after having two children by Henry, Mary finds his interest in her waning, and sees that he is turning his affections to her sister Anne.  There is no other choice for Mary than to assist Anne in dethroning Queen Katherine.  As she matures, Mary grows tired of the political games played in the royal court, and decides to make her own way in life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The Tudors have never been an exciting subject for me, but Philippa Gregory brings the era to life and makes it fascinating.  It should be remembered that this is a fictionalised account of events, and there are differences between what Mary tells and what current historians believe.  (For example, in the book Mary is portrayed as the younger sister, whereas in fact it is now widely accepted that she was older than Anne.  Also, while in the book there is no doubt that Henry is the father of Mary’s children, in truth it was never known for sure).

Each character is distinct and interesting.  Anne does not come out of this account well; she is portrayed as calculating and ruthless.  Mary is drawn more sympathetically (perhaps not surprising as the book is told from her point of view). Another major character is their brother George, whose own fate is told in this story, and who is a charming and reckless man, who serves in the royal court.  Henry himself is brought to life as a headstrong, spoilt young man, who is utterly handsome and charming in his youth, but who, during the period which the book spans, becomes bloated and unwell.

The story moves along at a steady pace, and even though I knew the ultimate outcome, I still found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to know what new developments were around the corner.  I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Tudors (and if you have no interest, this might be a book to change your mind).  After reading it, I found myself wanting find out more about this fascinating and brutal time in England’s history.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2008 movie adaptation.

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I doubt I would have gotten around to reading this book for quite some time, had a friend not recommended it to me. I am very grateful to her, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This is a fictional story, set against a factual backdrop. Hannah Green is a Jewish girl, who is sold into the service of Sir Robert Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland, who is advisor to King Edward. When Edward dies, Hannah finds herself sold as a ‘fool’ to the heir Princess Mary. Despite her expectations, Hannah grows to admire and respect the new Queen, as well as admiring the Queen’s sister, Elizabeth, who is portrayed as a plotting schemer, and not to be trusted. Hannah finds her loyalties tested, in an England where being Jewish is enough to have someone tried and executed for heresy.  Also in the story is Hannah’s relationship with her betrothed, Daniel, which takes some surprising twists and turns.

The period is brought to life with great colour and atmosphere, and the characters are all very well developed.  I thought Hannah was fabulous – somewhat ahead of her time, honest and loyal.  I also liked Princess Mary, who is often portrayed in a rather more negative light.  It was interesting to see a more compassionate depiction of her.

This is a hugely enjoyable book, which really brings history to life, and certainly raised my interest in the Tudor period.  Very well researched – this is an intelligent page-turner.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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