chapter  3
24 Pages

Queens I

The Elizabeth I films
WithKaren Hollinger

This chapter takes up the subgenre that early came to dominate the Hollywood women’s biopic. It considers the major characteristics of queen biopics and their relationship to heritage, British royalty, and historical romance films. Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933) is discussed as setting up the formula for the queen biopic as both a historical romance film and an examination of the life of a woman in a position of power. The chapter then goes on to look at the ongoing cycle of Elizabeth I star vehicles that began in the silent era with Les amours de la reine Élisabeth (Louis Mercanton and Henri Desfontaines, 1912) staring the legendary stage actress Sarah Bernhardt. It then examines major films from the remarkable cycle of Hollywood Elizabeth I films, including Bette Davis’s star vehicles The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939) and The Virgin Queen (Harry Koster, 1955), Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth R (PBS, 1971), Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur 2007), and Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth I (Tom Hooper, HBO, 2005).