Did we like it?
Even though we feel like as though we’ve feasted to the point of gluttony on the lavish historical regal dramas to the point when they will become hunted to extinction in the grand forests of TV, this was a well-acted, well-paced drama. And while a few gobbets of fleshy dialogue did get stuck in our throats, provoking convulsions of mirth, it did justify the blanket advertising which has clouded the gaps between programmes like debt consolidation ads for the financially illiterate.
What was good about it?
• Anne Marie Duff was marvellous as Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’. It would still have been watchable even if she had been acting the role only accompanied by a dumb haunting of ghosts of the figures portrayed.
• Duff played her as a capricious human whirlwind. She could flit between spitting spite at her sister Queen Mary’s spy, expressing her disgust at her confinement, faking her faith to Catholicism to ease the ire of Mary, or the exultation at Mary’s death that liberated her from her imprisonment and also speeded her ascent to the throne.
• A fine supporting cast including the criminally underused Ian Hart, Kevin McKidd, Tara Fitzgerald and Dexter Fletcher.
• The sets were flawless from the footsteps pounding on the wood, which added urgency, to the grimy interiors of Elizabeth’s numerous jails.
What was bad about it?
• Queen Mary (Joanne Whalley) was written as though she were Darth Vader. In every scene, unless screaming in agony, she was either instructing her minions to execute, torture or jail someone; indeed at one point she seethed to Lord Chamberlain Gardiner “Do not fail me again” as if was a hapless admiral in the Imperial fleet who would later be choked to death by the Dark Lord of the Sith. And what’s more, during their confrontation Mary even offered Elizabeth the chance to strike her down with her own weapon, but she, like ‘Young Skywalker’, relented.
• The division between Protestants and Catholics was very much portrayed as a chasm between good and evil. Whereas the Catholic Mary was murderously determined to reinstall her faith amongst her subjects following the “heresy” of her father Henry VIII, through such techniques as burning at the stake, while conducing her worship in churches that looked more like Satanists’ covens, Elizabeth was seen to be generous and tolerant when allowing Catholics to follow their religion freely after her coronation.
• Some of the most pointed moments of drama relied on a certain ignorance of history on the part of the viewer. When Gardiner raced to Elizabeth after the apparent birth of Mary’s child, thus providing an heir and making Elizabeth disposable, as if he was to carry out her execution it was in fact to inform her that her sister had died and she was now queen.
• The stakes the Protestants were burning at seemed suspiciously smooth, it was almost as though they’d been trimmed with the latest Black & Decker tools rather than hewn from the rough trunks of the English countryside.
• The occasionally awkward juxtaposition of Ye Olde English and modern slang. The worst instance was: “’Tis was but another false alarm!”