Elizabeth (film)

Elizabeth is a 1998 British biographical period drama film directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Michael Hirst. It stars Cate Blanchett in the title role of Elizabeth I of England, with Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud, and Richard Attenborough in supporting roles. The film is based on the early years of Elizabeth's reign, where she is elevated to the throne after the death of her half-sister Mary I, who had imprisoned her. As she establishes herself on the throne, she faces plots and threats to take her down.

Elizabeth Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byShekhar Kapur
Written byMichael Hirst
Produced by
CinematographyRemi Adefarasin
Edited byJill Bilcock
Music byDavid Hirschfelder
Distributed byPolyGram Filmed Entertainment[1]
Release dates
  • 8 September 1998 (1998-09-08) (Venice)
  • 23 October 1998 (1998-10-23) (United Kingdom)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$30 million
Box office$82 million[2]

Elizabeth premiered at the 55th Venice International Film Festival on 8 September 1998 and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 23 October. The film became a critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Kapur's direction, costume design, production values and most notably Blanchett's titular performance, bringing her to international recognition, while the film grossed $82 million against its $30 million budget.

The film received three nominations at the 56th Golden Globe Awards, including for the Best Motion Picture – Drama, with Blanchett winning Best Actress. It received twelve nominations at the 52nd British Academy Film Awards, winning five awards, including Outstanding British Film, and Best Actress (for Blanchett). At the 71st Academy Awards, it received seven nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actress (for Blanchett), winning Best Makeup. In 2007, Blanchett and Rush reprised their roles in Kapur's follow-up film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which covers the later part of Elizabeth's reign.


In 1558, Catholic Queen Mary (Kathy Burke) dies from a cancerous tumour in her womb. Mary's heir and Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), under house arrest for conspiracy charges, is freed and crowned the Queen of England.

As briefed by her adviser William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), Elizabeth inherits a distressed England besieged by debts, crumbling infrastructure, hostile neighbours, and treasonous nobles within her administration, chief among them the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston). Cecil advises Elizabeth to marry, produce an heir, and secure her rule. Unimpressed with her suitors, Elizabeth delays her decision and continues her secret affair with Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). Cecil appoints Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), a Protestant exile returned from France, to act as Elizabeth's bodyguard and adviser.

Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant) lands an additional 4,000 French troops in neighbouring Scotland. Unfamiliar with military strategy and browbeaten by Norfolk at the war council, Elizabeth orders a military response, which proves disastrous when the professional French soldiers defeat the inexperienced, ill-trained English forces. Walsingham tells Elizabeth that Catholic lords and priests intentionally deprived Elizabeth's army of proper soldiers and used their defeat to argue for Elizabeth's removal. Realising the depth of the conspiracy against her and her dwindling options, Elizabeth accepts Mary of Guise's conditions to consider marrying her nephew Henry of France.

To stabilize her rule and heal England's religious divisions, Elizabeth proposes the Act of Uniformity, which unites English Christians under the Church of England and severs their connection to the Vatican. In response to the Act's passage, the Vatican sends a priest to England to aid Norfolk and his cohorts in their growing plot to overthrow Elizabeth. Unaware of the plot, Elizabeth meets Henry of France but ignores his advances in favour of Lord Robert. William Cecil confronts Elizabeth over her indecisiveness about marrying and reveals Lord Robert is married to another woman. Elizabeth rejects Henry's marriage proposal when she discovers he is a cross-dresser and confronts Lord Robert about his secrets, fracturing their idyllic affair and banishing him from her private residence.

Elizabeth survives an assassination attempt, whose evidence implicates Mary of Guise. Elizabeth sends Walsingham to meet with Mary secretly in Scotland, under the guise of once again planning to marry Henry. Instead, Walsingham assassinates Guise, inciting French enmity against Elizabeth. When William Cecil asks her to solidify relations with the Spanish, Elizabeth dismisses him from her service, choosing instead to follow her own counsel.

Walsingham warns of another plot to kill Elizabeth spearheaded by the priest from Rome carrying letters of conspiracy. Under Elizabeth's orders, Walsingham apprehends the priest, who divulges the names of the conspirators and a Vatican agreement to elevate Norfolk to the English crown if he weds Mary, Queen of Scots. Walsingham arrests Norfolk and executes him and every conspirator except Lord Robert. Elizabeth grants Lord Robert his life as a reminder to herself how close she came to danger.

Drawing inspiration from the divine, Elizabeth cuts her hair and models her appearance after the Virgin Mary. Proclaiming herself married to England, she ascends the throne as "the Virgin Queen."



The costuming and shot composition of the coronation scene are based on Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

This portrait "The Coronation of Elizabeth" was used as the basis for the photography and costume of Cate Blanchett during the coronation scene in the film. This is a copy of a now lost original, this copy attrib. Nicholas Hilliard

Kapur's original choice for the role was Emily Watson, but she turned it down.[3] Cate Blanchett was chosen to play Elizabeth after Kapur saw a trailer of Oscar and Lucinda.[4] According to the director's commentary, Kapur mentioned that the role of the Pope (played by Sir John Gielgud) was originally offered to, and accepted by, Marlon Brando. However, plans changed when Kapur noted that many on set would probably be concerned that Brando would be sharing the set with them for two days. Later, when Gielgud had taken the role, Kapur at one point suggested (in vain) that the Pope's accent should be Italian; he added that every British actor within earshot was horrified that any director was asking Sir John Gielgud to speak in an accent that "wasn't John Gielgud".[citation needed]

A large proportion of the indoor filming, representing the royal palace, was conducted in various corners of Durham Cathedral—its unique nave pillars are clearly identifiable.[5][6]

Historical accuracyEdit

Elizabeth received some criticism for factual liberties it takes and for its distortion of the historical timeline to present events which occurred in the middle to later part of Elizabeth's reign as occurring at the beginning.[7][8] In his entry for Elizabeth I in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Patrick Collinson described the film "as if the known facts of the reign, plus many hitherto unknown, were shaken up like pieces of a jigsaw and scattered on the table at random."[8][9] Carole Levin, reviewing the film in 1999 for Perspectives on History, criticized the movie for portraying Elizabeth as "a very weak and flighty character who often showed terrible judgment", in contrast to historical descriptions of her as a strong, decisive, and intelligent ruler. In particular, Levin scrutinized the movie's portrayal of Elizabeth as dependent on Walsingham, in addition to the completely inaccurate portrayal of her relationship with Robert Dudley, as being instances in the film where the character appears weak and overpowered by the men around her.[7]

There are inaccuracies in the timeline of events prior to her accession. The film depicts Mary I of England as being pregnant prior to Elizabeth's imprisonment. In actuality, Elizabeth was imprisoned on 18 March 1554 and released in May; it was not announced that the Queen was believed to be pregnant until September of that same year.

Elizabeth was put under house arrest at Woodstock Palace, not Hatfield House, but did not remain there until her sister's death. On 17 April 1555 she was summoned to Hampton Court to be with Mary during the Queen's delivery. When the Queen did not deliver, Elizabeth remained at court through 18 October 1555 until after it had become apparent that Mary was not pregnant and after the Queen's husband Philip II of Spain had gone abroad. It was only after this time that Elizabeth was finally able to return to Hatfield.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is wrongly depicted as having been a co-conspirator in the plot against Elizabeth. In fact, he remained one of Elizabeth's closest friends until his death in 1588, long after their romantic relationship had ended. The movie portrays Elizabeth as being ignorant of the fact that Dudley is married; it is her discovery of this fact that contributes to the breakdown of their relationship. In reality, Elizabeth was fully aware of Dudley's marriage to his first wife, Amy Robsart, who lived in isolation in the country suffering from breast cancer. Robsart died from a fall down the stairs in 1560, two years into Elizabeth's reign, a fact never mentioned in the film.[7] He never converted to Catholicism either, remaining a staunch Protestant and Puritan all his life.

In the film, England is forced to send young and untrained soldiers, including children, to fight in Scotland against the French Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, who is said to be plotting to invade England, because the Catholic bishops spoke in the pulpits against raising a professional army. In truth, Mary of Guise was not planning on invading England, but was crushing a Protestant revolt amongst the Scots. Elizabeth had also had all the English Catholic bishops thrown in prison before the conflict even began, and the English actually did send professional soldiers to fight in Scotland. They were defeated in battle not because they were untrained children sabotaged by traitorous Catholic clergy, but because they were simply outfought by the French.[citation needed]

Mary of Guise was not assassinated by Walsingham, but died naturally from edema on 11 June 1560.[10]

William Cecil, Baron Burghley was portrayed by the 75-year-old Richard Attenborough in the film, but the real Lord Burghley was only 37 years old when Elizabeth was crowned, thirteen years older than she.[11] Likewise she never compelled him to retire, as is depicted in the film. He remained her chief advisor and was Lord High Treasurer from 1572 until his death in 1598.[8] Similarly, the film depicts Cecil being given the title Lord Burghley before the Northern Rising of 1569. In fact, he was given this title two years after this in 1571.[citation needed]

The film portrays Kat Ashley, head lady-in-waiting to the Queen, as being the same age as Elizabeth, but in reality, at the time of the then-25-year-old Elizabeth's coronation, Ashley was around 57, and she died six years later in 1565.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk was not a cold and calculating power-hungry mastermind, but a gullible co-conspirator in a couple of assassination plots.[citation needed]The first was the Northern Uprising, which alone was enough to get him jailed for nine months in the Tower of London, before Elizabeth released him to house arrest. The second, the Ridolfi plot, was a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, place Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne, and have her marry Norfolk. Norfolk was beheaded for his role in this plot as he had been bankrolling the conspirators.

Bishop Stephen Gardiner died in 1555, before Elizabeth came to the throne and thus cannot possibly have been involved in the Ridolfi plot. The Earl of Arundel was not executed for his role, but was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died as a political prisoner, and the Earl of Sussex was actually a loyal supporter of Elizabeth who would not have tried to overthrow her.

John Ballard is introduced beating the young Sir Thomas Elyot to death with a rock, an event that cannot have occurred because Elyot died before Elizabeth even came to the throne, at the age of 55 or 56. Ballard was not in England to assassinate Elizabeth, although he did initiate the Babington plot to overthrow her (the movie treats both this and the separate Ridolfi plot as one scheme). He also had the cover story of being a soldier and well-dressed swashbuckler, while the movie portrays him as merely a drab, humourless fanatic. His death—he was hanged, drawn and quartered alive, along with some of the other conspirators in the Babington plot—was also so shocking and brutal to witnesses that Elizabeth forbade that method being used again.[citation needed]

Although the idea of marriage to Henry, Duke of Anjou (who was actually not Mary's nephew but the son of Henry II) was briefly entertained, Elizabeth never actually met him, and moreover there is no evidence that he was a cross-dresser, as depicted in the film. Further, the movie portrays the courtship as occurring at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, when in fact it occurred in 1570, twelve years into her rule. The film also glosses over the considerable real-life age difference between the Queen and Henry (in 1570 she was 37 years-old and he 19).[11] It was Henry's younger brother Francis, Duke of Anjou, 22 years younger than Elizabeth, who seriously pursued the English queen beginning in 1578, when she was 45 years old and he was 23.

At the end of the film, Elizabeth is shown as having decided against marriage. In fact, she entertained the idea of marriage with several European monarchs well into middle age. Candidates included her former brother-in-law, Philip II of Spain; Archduke Charles of Austria; Eric XIV of Sweden; Adolphus, Duke of Holstein; and the Valois princes Francis and Henry (later King Henry III of France and Poland).[12]



Elizabeth premiered in September 1998 at the Venice Film Festival; it was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[13] It premiered in London on 2 October 1998 and it premiered in the United States on 13 October 1998.[13] It opened in the United Kingdom on 23 October 1998[13] and opened in limited release in the United States in nine cinemas on 6 November 1998, grossing $275,131.[14] Its widest release in the United States and Canada was in 624 cinemas,[14] and its largest weekend gross throughout its run in cinemas in the US and Canada was $3.8 million in 516 cinemas,[14] ranking No.9 at the box office.[15] Elizabeth went on to gross $30 million in the United States and Canada, and a total of $82 million worldwide.[16]


Critical responseEdit

The film was well received by critics. It holds an approval rating of 83% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 63 reviews, with an average score of 7.30/10. The site's consensus reads: "No mere historical drama, Elizabeth is a rich, suspenseful journey into the heart of British Royal politics, and features a typically outstanding performance from Cate Blanchett."[17] Metacritic reports a score of 75 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18]

Accusations of anti-CatholicismEdit

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights accused the film of anti-Catholicism, stating that the film gives the "impression that the religious strife was all the doing of the Catholic Church," noting that the review in The New York Times considered it "resolutely anti-Catholic" complete with a "scheming pope" and repeating the charge made in the Buffalo News that "every single Catholic in the film is dark, cruel and devious."[19]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards[20] Best Picture Alison Owen, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan Nominated
Best Actress Cate Blanchett Nominated
Best Art Direction John Myhre and Peter Howitt Nominated
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated
Best Makeup Jenny Shircore Won
Best Original Dramatic Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Awards[21] Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Art Directors Guild Awards[22] Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film John Myhre Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[23] Best Film Alison Owen, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan Nominated
Outstanding British Film Alison Owen, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan and Shekhar Kapur Won
Best Direction Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Cate Blanchett Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Geoffrey Rush Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Michael Hirst Nominated
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Won
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated
Best Editing Jill Bilcock Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair Jenny Shircore Won
Best Film Music David Hirschfelder Won
Best Production Design John Myhre Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[24] Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Best Original Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards[25] Best Picture Nominated
Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Breakthrough Artist Joseph Fiennes (also for Shakespeare in Love) Won
Empire Awards[26] Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Golden Globe Awards[27] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Cate Blanchett Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards[28] Most Promising Actress Cate Blanchett Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards[28] Actress of the Year Won
British Producer of the Year Alison Owen, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner Won
National Board of Review Awards[29] Top Ten Films 3rd Place
Best Director Shekhar Kapur Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards[30] Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Satellite Awards[31] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Cate Blanchett Won
Best Director Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Best Art Direction John Myhre Nominated
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards[32] Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Cate Blanchett Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[28] Best Picture 6th Place
Best Actress Cate Blanchett (also for Oscar and Lucinda) Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards[33] Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Venice International Film Festival[28] Max Factor Award Jenny Shircore Won

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". BBFC. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  2. ^ Elizabeth at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Archerd, Army (17 February 1999). "'Jackie' thesp sez she's no. Several Established Actresses were considered for the role were Minnie Driver, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta Jones, Juilette Beoniche, Lucy Lawless, Pasty Kensit, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kristen Scott Thomas and Helena Bonham Carter. 'Elizabeth'". Variety. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  4. ^ "Arts: Her Brilliant Career" independent.co.uk
  5. ^ "Elizabeth Film Locations". Movie-Locations. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  6. ^ "Film & TV Locations". This Is Durnham. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Carole Levin (1 April 1999). "Elizabeth: Romantic Film Heroine or Sixteenth-Century Queen?". Perspectives on History. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Eric Josef Carlson (2007). "Teaching and Technology: Teaching Elizabeth Tudor with Movies: Film, Historical Thinking, and the Classroom". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 38 (2): 419–428. doi:10.2307/20478367. JSTOR 20478367.
  9. ^ Patrick Collinson. "Elizabeth I (1553-1603)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. p. 76.
  10. ^ CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 389 and CSP Foreign Elizabeth, vol. ii (1865), 604, 29 April 1560.
  11. ^ a b Alex von Tunzelmann (21 September 2011). "Elizabeth I rules over time and space". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  12. ^ "The Tudor Age 1480-1603" Guy, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain; Ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, 266
  13. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Release dates". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  14. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  15. ^ Weekend Box Office - November 27-29, 1998. Box Office Mojo. (8 July 2011). Retrieved on 8 August 2011.
  16. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  17. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  18. ^ "Elizabeth Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  19. ^ Elizabeth is "resolutely anti-Catholic" Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, January–February 1999
  20. ^ "The 71st Academy Awards (1999) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  21. ^ "The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography". Archived from the original on 2 August 2011.
  22. ^ "3rd Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards". Archived from the original on 27 September 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  23. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1999". BAFTA. 1999. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  24. ^ "Chicago Film Critics Awards - 1998–07". Chicagofilmcritics.org. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  25. ^ Clinton, Paul (26 January 1999). "Broadcast Film critics name 'Saving Private Ryan' best film". CNN. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  26. ^ "1999 Empire Awards". Empireonline.co.uk. 1999. Archived from the original on 16 August 2000.
  27. ^ "Winners & Nominees: Elizabeth". HFPA. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  28. ^ a b c d Awards IMDb
  29. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures :: Awards". Nbrmp.org. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  30. ^ "Online Film Critics Society". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  31. ^ "International Press Academy website – 1999 3rd Annual SATELLITE Awards". Archived from the original on 1 February 2008.
  32. ^ "The 5th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards: Nominees and Recipients". Screen Actors Guild. 1999. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  33. ^ "TFCA Awards 1998".

External linksEdit