Augustana and I went to see Elizabeth: The Golden Years this weekend, partly out of a sense of professional obligation (Augie, as her pseudonym suggests, works on a later period but sometimes pinch-hits for the Renaissance) and partly out of a desire to see some really pretty clothes. We had, it must be said, extremely low expectations.
But given those low expectations, we had a damn good time--a better time, I imagine, than the fiftysomething couple in front of us who kept shifting or half turning around in their seats every time we burst out laughing at a solemn moment or had a whispered coversation about whether Mary, Queen of Scots could really have had a Scottish accent--because dude, wasn't she raised in France?
Other bloggers have already commented on the historical liberties the film takes, and while I don't mind some condensing and collapsing and shuffling around of events, I was initially irritated by the depiction of the period's religious politics. As Augie noted, Philip II of Spain, whom the film presents as a fanatical Catholic, is basically a caricature of a modern-day Islamic fundamentalist bent on holy war. In fact, the film suggests that all its Catholics are somehow in league with each other against Elizabeth, and that Spain sent its armada not because of English interference with Spain's New World holdings, and not because of English support for the United Provinces--but because Philip was really mad that Elizabeth had Mary executed.
But as the film went on, I started to enjoy its naive nationalism and the fever-swamp of its religious paranoia. It reminded me of actual Early Modern propaganda--and you'd better believe there's nothing Flavia loves more than propaganda. Then I began thinking about how awesome it would be to teach clips from the movie alongside, say, The Faerie Queene (for Book 3, the clip of Elizabeth in armor on horseback, surrounded by fluttering flags with the cross of St. George, would alone be worth the DVD purchase price).
It's disappointing that the filmmakers are promoting such a luridly nationalistic version of history--and that there seems, for instance, to be no irony in their portrayal of Elizabeth as an enlightened and religiously tolerant ruler in contrast with Philip--but that wouldn't make it any less effective as a teaching tool. Just as in The Faerie Queene: what's true of almost every villain? They're Catholic! And how do you know they're Catholic? Look out for the rosary beads! (Seriously, I think there are more rosaries in this movie than there are actors.)
And if all else fails, there's educational value--surely!--in oohing and ahhing over some pretty dresses.