Review: Elizabeth I in Film and Television by Bethany Latham

by Bethany Latham

Publication Date: April 27, 2011
McFarland Publishing


This analysis of how filmmakers have portrayed England's Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), and the audience's perception of Elizabeth based upon these portrayals, examines key representations of the Tudor monarch in various motion pictures and television miniseries. It appraises of the productions themselves and the actresses who have portrayed Elizabeth, among them Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Judy Dench, Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren, as well as Quentin Crisp's cross-dressing appearance as the Queen in Orlando (1992). The text focuses on the historical context of the period in which each film or miniseries was made; the extent of the portrayals of Elizabeth; and how these representations have influenced the characterization of Elizabeth on film, as well as popular understanding of the historical Queen.


In my quest to gobble up anything related to Queen Elizabeth I, I jumped at the chance to further my obsession and check out Bethany Latham’s book, Elizabeth I in Film and Television: A Study of the Major Portrayals.

From the first film to feature Elizabeth, the silent movie Les Amours de la Reine Elisabeth with the Divine Sarah Bernhardt portraying the famed monarch to the more recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age, with the stunning Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen, Latham covers the map of Elizabeth portrayals. Elizabeth I in Film and Television explores the major Hollywood productions, television mini-series and even a few of the smaller roles, such as Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love and Tim Burtons’ Alice in Wonderland.

Readers are given a back-stage pass and a behind the scenes look at each work. Bethany delves into the actress portraying Elizabeth, the historical accuracy of the film, status of the film industry, entertainment factor, people’s sentiments of Elizabeth at the time of production, picture making capabilities of the day, and the director’s vision/purpose of the movie. I was seriously impressed by the amount of research and at how thorough and in-depth her analysis was and have since began a mission to watch every movie covered in the book. For a non-fiction work I can tell you that this did not read dry at all! I had an inkling that I would enjoy the read, but I was quite surprised on how absorbed I became in it and not only because of Elizabeth, but even learning about the actresses, directors, the film industry in general and the history of picture making was fascinating!

So for those of you like Bethany and me, who continue to still be fascinated by Elizabeth and share a love of historical & period films, you will not want to miss this excellent read!


Bethany Latham is an associate professor and electronic resources/documents librarian at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.  Her articles have appeared in such publications as Reference Reviews and Library Journal.  She is the managing editor of The Historical Novels Review.



  1. Fascinating - I just watched "Mary, Queen of Scotts" last weekend with my Netflix instant download and I believe that one had Vanessa Redgrave? It was a fun movie - well as fun as one can get with a beheading at the end

  2. I've seen the Bette Davis movie and was not thrilled. I love Cate Blanchett but still have to admit 'Elizabeth R' with Glenda Jackson is my favorite. I think that portrayal may be closest to Elizabeth's personality, and is probably the most factual.

  3. What a great book! I had not heard about this but it's a fascinating idea :)

  4. Elizabeth I was such a "rock solid" Queen in history and I'm sure that for an actress to portray her in a film would be a huge feat. I have read other books about Elizabeth I and have been enthralled at watching Helen Mirren portray her. I don't think anyone could tire of seeing how an actress would take on that role. I look forward to reading more and watching more about this incredible woman.

  5. Interesting how a different director and/or actress can change the perception of a historical figure. One must be aware and balance the representations. Sounds like an interesting book.

  6. I'm not a huge Elizabeth fan but I think that this premises sounds awesome. I always love looking into the people who play a particular character in history and seeing what they bring to the role. Thanks for this review.


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