All the King's Men
Flags of our Fathers
The Great Raid
Kingdom of Heaven
Master and Commander
Memoirs of a Geisha
Passion of the Christ
Pride and Prejudice
Pirates of the Caribbean 2
Walk the Line
We are Marshall
World Trade Center
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Blanchett rules. The movie, not so much
The best history lesson in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
is delivered by Cate Blanchett. As she did in 1998's Elizabeth,
Blanchett breathes life into the historic Elizabeth, portraying
a complex, commanding, thoroughly believable queen struggling to
maintain her power and keep her humanity in a perilous age.
But as for the rest of the history depicted by the film? Take it
with a large dose of salt. Elizabeth: The Golden Age plays
fast and loose with many historical details. Here are some examples.
Q. The Catholics are clearly the bad guys in the film. Is that
A. Yes, and it's the movie's biggest historical flaw. The film sets
up a simplistic tale of Protestants, all reasonable, fair, and tolerant,
who labor under constant attack by conniving and fanatical Catholics.
In truth, neither faith had a monopoly on fanaticism, and throughout
Europe during this era, Catholics and Protestants took turns committing
gruesome atrocities on one another. And while it is true that Elizabeth
took a more moderate approach than either her father, Henry VIII
(who massacred many Catholics) and her sister, Mary (who did the
same to Protestants) it was still illegal to openly practice Catholicism
during Elizabeth's reign, and her government tortured and killed
many Catholics as suspected spies.
Q. Did Philip II of Spain attack England solely because of religion?
A. No, it went beyond that. Philip was certainly a Catholic zealot.
He supported the Inquisition, and backed the Pope in encouraging
English Catholics to kill or overthrow Elizabeth. But Philip would
probably never have attacked England had not Elizabeth offered some
provocation, which the film downplays. Elizabeth coveted Spain's
New World riches, and encouraged privateers like Francis Drake and
Walter Raleigh to attack Spanish ships and settlements and plunder
their treasures. She also authorized aid to the rebels in the Netherlands,
who were struggling to overthrow Spanish rule. To Spain, such provocations
warranted an attack.
Q. Did Elizabeth really yearn for the dashing Walter Raleigh?
A. Elizabeth liked men. Throughout her reign she attracted a constant
stream of them jockeying to become her latest favorite. Raleigh
came to her court as a young man in his twenties, and as the film
shows, Elizabeth was immediately taken with his looks, charm, and
But the movie misrepresents Raleigh pretty badly. He was younger
than Elizabeth by some nineteen years, for one thing. And far from
being the cool, sardonic, and proud character Clive Owen portrays,
the real Raleigh was a major suck-up, constantly seeking more financial
rewards from the queen. He used the money in part for his lavish
wardrobe, which included a pair of gem-encrusted shoes worth 6000
Q. Did Elizabeth really throw him into jail for marrying one
of her ladies in waiting?
A. The real story's a bit more complicated. Raleigh's relationship
with Bess Throckmorten developed some ten years after he had first
drawn the Queen's eye. Though Elizabeth had other favorites by then,
she nevertheless did not take it kindly when Raleigh was accused
of seducing young Bess, who as a lady-in-waiting was forbidden to
enter a relationship without the Queen's approval. Elizabeth did
indeed put Raleigh in the Tower for a time, and expelled Bess from
her Court. Raleigh and Bess married, though it's unclear whether
that occurred before or after the Queen learned of their relationship.
Q. Did Raleigh get released just in time to save England from
the Spanish Armada?
A. The history in that section of the film is a total mishmash.
For one thing, Raleigh's relationship with Bess didn't take place
until years later. For another, Raleigh's role in the fighting is
wildly exaggerated. He did not single-handedly bring down the Armada
by maneuvering a fireship into its midst. In fact, most sources
say he wasn't even in the fleet at the time, but was on land helping
to organize coastal defenses.
Q. How was the Armada defeated, then?
A. The English did set some of their ships ablaze and steer them
into the Armada, but unlike in the film, that alone didn't end the
Spanish threat. The English fleet spent two weeks attacking and
chasing the Armada up through the English Channel. Hampered by poor
planning, cumbersome vessels, and a powerful wind decidedly against
them, the Armada was blown far into the North Sea without ever landing
a soldier in England.
Q. Why was Mary, Queen of Scots such a threat to Elizabeth?
A. Because to many English Catholics, Mary was the legitimate heir
to the throne. A Tudor herself -- Henry VIII was her great-uncle
-- and raised Catholic, Mary was an attractive prospect for English
Catholics who had disapproved of Henry VIII's second marriage, and
thus scorned Elizabeth as illegitimate.
For years, plots to kill Elizabeth and enthrone Mary swirled among
England's disaffected Catholics. Aware of the danger, Elizabeth
kept Mary under house arrest for nineteen years, until finally,
after letters were unearthed clearly implicating Mary in a plot
to overthrow the government, Elizabeth reluctantly authorized her
But Mary's story didn't end there. She had sought the throne --
in vain -- so that she and her heirs could restore Catholicism to
England. And when Elizabeth finally died without an heir, it would
be Mary's son, James, who would inherit the crown. Yet James I was
not quite his mother's son. He is best remembered for commissioning
the King James Bible, which helped unite the English people for
generations to come in their worship, as Protestants. Turns out
Elizabeth had won that round as well.
Cathy Schultz, Ph.D., is a history professor at the University
of St. Francis in Illinois and writes a syndicated column on historical
Cate Blanchett owns the role of Elizabeth I. .
The real Raleigh was 19 years younger
Elizabeth did ride out to address
the troops as the Armada headed toward England. But she probably
wasn't wearing that full suit of armor.