Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons star in Elizabeth I, a two-part HBO Films miniseries event that explores the intersection of the private and public life of Elizabeth I (Mirren) in the latter half of her reign, offering a personal look at her allies, her enemies and her suitors as she struggles to survive in a male-dominated world. Part 1 explores Elizabeth's tempestuous relationship with the Earl of Leicester (Irons) as it survives a French suitor, war, treason, and illness. Part 2 follows Elizabeth through her later years, during which she had an equally passionate affair with the young, ambitious Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy), who had been raised, ironically, by his stepfather Leicester. In the end, Elizabeth I sheds light on one of the most popular members of the monarchy who held absolute power over everything... except her heart.
Helen Mirren's Elizabeth I could almost be cousin to her Jane Tennison. Like the dedicated detective chief inspector, Queen Bess is not without a heart, but work comes first and any romantic entanglements are doomed to fail. Fortunately, she has her friendships. Directed by Tom Hooper (Prime Suspect 6
), this two-part HBO/Channel 4 tele-film begins in 1579. The Virgin Queen has been on the throne for 20 years, but has not married. Her closest relationship is with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), whom the council will not allow her to wed. Because Robert wishes to produce an heir, he marries another, garnering Elizabeth's disfavor (and nor is he all that thrilled about her dalliance with Henry, the Duke of Anjou). In time, he'll return to her good graces. As she explains, "Friendship outlasts love and is stronger than love." Then, as his health begins to fails, she'll turn to his stepson, the dashing, if duplicitous Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy, the Hooper-directed Daniel Deronda
). Meanwhile, Mary, Queen of Scots (Barbara Flynn) plots against her Protestant cousin. Even after Mary makes her exit, plenty of other powerful Catholics will stop at nothing to seize the crown. Marked as much by triumph as tragedy, the role of Elizabeth I has been catnip for many illustrious actresses, notably Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, and Cate Blanchett. Mirren's multi-faceted portrayal of the queen's golden years is a worthy addition to that canon and Irons is a particularly formidable foil. --Kathleen C. Fennessy