Saturday, April 28, 2012

Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown

Year 4, Day 119 - 4/28/12 - Movie #1,118

BEFORE: Picking up exactly where last night's film left off, this film centers on Queen Victoria herself.  How many people get a whole time period named after them?  Linking from "Hysteria", Jonathan Pryce was in "Tomorrow Never Dies" with Judi Dench (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides").

THE PLOT:  Queen Victoria is deeply depressed after the death of her husband, disappearing from public. Her servant Brown, who adores her, through caress and admiration brings her back to life, but that relationship creates a scandalous situation.

AFTER: Well, it seems as if at some point the balance of power got shifted to the common man.  Most of the week I've been watching films about kings and queens who felt they could do anything (and anyone) that they wanted.  Now that we've reached Victorian times, the Queen has to act a certain way, especially where matters of the heart are concerned.  To be seen in a relationship with a commoner, well it just wouldn't be proper, now would it?

Maybe it's a male/female thing - Henry II expressed a penchant for sleeping with anything on two (or even occasionally four) legs, and people for the most part turned a blind eye.  But when there's a queen on the throne without a king, it could be that she's held to a higher standard.  Elizabeth I never got around to finding a suitable husband, and after Victoria's husband Albert died, she never re-married.

A bit of the history - Victoria became queen at the age of 18, she was the daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and the granddaughter of King George III (subject of "The Madness of King George").  Her mother was German-born, and Prince Albert, her husband, was also her first cousin (funny, that keeps happening...), and together they had 9 children and 34 grandchildren.  She had the longest reign of any British monarch, and longer than any other female monarch in history.

While it's true that she had a manservant named John Brown, and rumors of a love affair circulated, I would imagine that no one knows exactly what the relationship was - so this film might be mainly conjecture.  In fact, the movie itself actually falls short of defining the relationship, whether he was just the man who pulled her out of her depression, or whether he was the 2nd great love of her life.  Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

But it's worth noting that by this time, the monarchy held little power in Britain, so if the queen removed herself from government duties, or spent most of her time at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the Parliament ensured that the British Empire stayed in business.

This was a mostly entertaining film that focused on the (supposed) relationship between Victoria and John Brown, so it works mainly as a character study - the rugged Scotsman, with his love of the outdoors, turns out to have the recipe to cheer up the depressed Queen, with his recommended horse rides and salt-water swims in appropriate covered-up Queenly bathing gown, of course.  By contrast, Brown prefers to dive into the surf au naturel.

He also becomes her trusted ally because of his frankness - she knows she can count on his opinion because, unlike everyone else around her, he has no reason to lie to feed her ego.  This is a common concern, even in today's workplaces - is it better to tell the boss what you think he wants to hear, or is it better to speak the truth?  And in fact, you may need to do the first thing for a while, and wait for the right opportunities to do the second.

Also starring Billy Connolly (last seen in "Gulliver's Travels"), Antony Sher (last seen in "The Wolfman"), Gerard Butler (last seen in "Law Abiding Citizen"), David Westhead, with a cameo from Oliver Ford Davies (who played Sio Bibble, adviser to Queen Amidala, in the Star Wars prequels).

RATING: 5 out of 10 stirrups (the other kind)

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Year 4, Day 118 - 4/27/12 - Movie #1,117

BEFORE: I watched this Thursday night at the Tribeca Film Festival, but I'm going to count this as Friday's film - because I can do that.  One of my bosses springs for a VIP pass for the festival, and he invited me as his guest to a number of films, which puts me in something of a quandary.  One of the best film festivals in the country is taking place all around me, but I didn't feel comfortable taking advantage of his generosity and seeing a dozen or so films.  So, I struck the same compromise as last year, and accepted his offer to see just one film (last year, it was "Everything Must Go", starring Will Ferrell).  And so my chain didn't get interrupted, I picked a film that seemed to fit in with both last night's film (madness/hysteria) and tomorrow's film as well.  This film is set in Victorian England, I'll leave it at that.

As a special bonus coincidence, and I swear I didn't plan this, Rupert Everett carries over from last night's film.  It seems like it was meant to be - one of many hundreds of little coincidences that have occured in this process, like divine providence from the cinema gods.

My BFF Andy is in Ireland right now, and since he's surrounded by pubs and a somewhat Guinness-based economy, he e-mailed me and wondered if the wrong one of us was there.  I told him that I can get Irish food here in NYC, and Irish beer as well, so since I'd probably do a terrible job speaking at whatever tech conference or computer thingie he's attending, it's probably for the best.  Sometimes it does seem like the universe does know what it's doing.  Perhaps when I go to San Francisco and I'm surrounded by tech companies and photogenic scenery, I'll feel the same way as him.

THE PLOT: A romantic comedy based on the truth of how Mortimer Granville devised the invention of the first vibrator in the name of medical science.

AFTER: This is an odd choice for subject matter perhaps - you may or may not find the medical science behind the vibrator an appropriate topic for a film, especially if you attend the screening with your boss, but I digress.  What's significant is the sexual awakening that took place during Victorian times, before there were women doctors, or doctors who knew much about, umm, lady-parts.  Geez, some doctors in the 1880's didn't even believe in the existence of germs, or washing their hands before surgery! 

The term hysteria - note the similarity to hysterectomy, by definition a man cannot be hysterical - was sort of the ADHD for Victorian women, or maybe the chronic fatigue syndrome of that time.  It was sort of an overall definition of women who were rundown, or depressed, or dis-satisfied with their lives, though the more severe cases may have been women who were insane in a frantic way, the mildest and most frequent cases were just women who needed umm, release?  Satisfaction?  Do I have to spell it out?  However, it was also used to marginalize women who were just plain lippy, and in some cases led to unnecessary hysterectomies being performed. (not cool)

But because this was proper British society, most women never even got "the talk", or were brought up comfortable enough with their bodies to, shall we say, take matters into their own hands.  Or tell their husbands what they wanted in the bedroom, because that would make them whores or something.  Enter the physicians, who noticed that after certain stimulus was applied, and the women achieved a climax, or paraxsis, their moods greatly increased.  Sure, it seems like a no-brainer now, but this was a time, not too long ago, when people still used chamberpots and tossed their own waste into the streets.

After the industrial revolution, people thought they were living in the most modern of times, but clearly they were wrong.  On the other hand, today we ARE living in the most modern of times, and until someone invents the flying car, things are probably as good as they're gonna get.  This film pokes light at that, by showing early rudimentary uses for the telephone - I'm sure phone sex wasn't invented until decades later, but I can't prove it of course.  But I'm guessing that after the motion-picture camera came along, the first porno movie wasn't that far behind.  Thomas Edison probably stayed late in the lab with a hot chick or two and liked to "crank the camera", if you get my drift.

Now, maybe you don't think that watching a bunch of middle-aged ladies getting their parts medically massaged makes for an entertaining film. (I'm sure someone, somewhere has a fetish for petticoats)  This is all very tasteful, however, and quaint in its own ignorance about sex, medicine and electronic vibration.  The main character, Mortimer Granville, is a doctor whose hand cramps up from all the "medical procedures" he performs, and when he realizes that the vibration of a machine makes his hand feel better, his brain eventually puts two and two together, and the medical vibrator is born.

There's a human element here too, as Granville works in a practice with an older doctor, and he's being groomed to marry the doctor's daughter and someday take over his lucrative practice of treating "hysterical" women - when word spreads about the treatment, it seems half of London can't wait to be diagnosed.  But the doctor also has another daughter who's more fiery, more socially progressive, and who spends nearly all of her time running a sort of mission for the poor, while campaigning for women's rights.

Does the doctor settle for the dependable, yet boring daughter, or risk his job by pursuing the more headstrong, passionate one?  Raise your hand if you think you know the answer.  The last-minute romantic switcheroo is such an overused stereotype (going back to, I don't know, "The Philadelphia Story"?) that I'd honestly be more surprised if there wasn't a twist.  So this film is sort predictable in its unpredictability, if that makes sense.

Still, it's a sweet ending, and a nice way to resolve a romantic triangle so that no one loses.  It's very funny, and super self-aware, everything's done with a smile and a wink.  And it's bawdy without being pornographic - though some of the stereotypes are worn out, like the sexy maid thing.  Sure, it's a classic, but it's been done.

Speaking of being done before, how can a film portray the female orgasm on screen, after films like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Boogie Nights" essentially spoiled the party?  If the actresses over-act, then they evoke Meg Ryan (and, umm, every porno actress ever), but if they down-play it, then how do we know it happened?  When it's not obvious, this film opts for verbal confirmation, but also falls back on some well-worn movie tropes, like a woman singing opera.  Really?   If we're going to trot out the classics, why not exploding fireworks?  The train going into the tunnel?  I realize it's difficult to portray what cannot be seen, but I'm left wondering if there was a better way.

I have to think that the release of this film comes at a critical time, since there is a uterine-based war going on in our country, concerning women's reproductive rights.  As usual, they are under attack from the Republicans - I lean toward pro-choice since I think there are already too many people in the world, plus who am I to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her womb?  But I'm not completely happy with abortion either, and what it represents.  I'm down with birth control as a solution, but that doesn't satisfy conservatives either, since they label any woman who uses it as a slut or a whore.  Gee, maybe we haven't come that far from Victorian morals after all.

When a Senate panel is convened on women's reproductive issues, and not one single woman is asked to speak on the matter, that's not just a publicity gaffe, it's sheer lunacy.  And, it proves that the people making the decisions don't have anything even close to a clue.  Perhaps there will come a day, 150 years from now, when people will look back on the issues of abortion and birth control, having worked it all out somehow, and they won't believe we were ever stuck in such a quandary, and people who argued about it back in the early 2000's will seem as silly as a bunch of frumpy women who didn't know how to masturbate.  They'll be glad to live in such an enlightened age - or perhaps that's just what their reptilian alien overlords will WANT them to think, via the Matrix.

Final thought, and here's where the double-standard cuts the other way - if you have a film where women are learning to "get in touch with themselves", then it's all about equal rights and female empowerment, which are good things.   But a film about guys learning to jack it would just be gross, right?

Also starring Hugh Dancy (last seen in "Black Hawk Down"), Maggie Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Away We Go"), Jonathan Pryce (last seen in "Ronin"), Felicity Jones.

RATING: 7 out of 10 stirrups

The Madness of King George

Year 4, Day 117 - 4/26/12 - Movie #1,116

BEFORE: Messed-up British Royalty week continues with this film - all I really know about King George III is that he reigned when Great Britain lost the Revolutionary War.  Maybe this will explain a lot.   Linking backwards a bit, Timothy Dalton was also in "Mary, Queen of Scots" with Ian Holm, who appears tonight.  A lot of the same actors keep turning up in these stuffy British films, which helps me out a lot.  If that's cheating, then Nigel Terry from "The Lion in Winter" was also in "Excalibur" with Helen Mirren.  So there.

THE PLOT: A meditation on power and the metaphor of the body of state, based on the real episode of dementia experienced by George III,

AFTER: What are people supposed to think when their king starts rambling incoherently, putting the moves on women who aren't the Queen, and going to the bathroom in public?  See, that's rock-star behavior right there, real Keith Richards-type stuff.

How do you separate this from the regular behavior of the royalty, who have been told for hundreds of years that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want?  How long before someone suspects that the man is not just eccentric, but insane?   How can he be treated when his doctors treat the king with such respect that they don't even feel comfortable examining him?

Pointing out a king's faults, be they medical problems, sexual proclivities or personality traits, all go a long way in a movie toward humanizing them - the feet of clay, as it were.  I suspect I'll be seeing a lot of that this week.

America barely gets a mention here, George doesn't seem like he has much of a bad reputation for losing the colonies.  A few people say things like "Did you hear they are called United States now?  Raw-ther..."  It's funny, even with his losing foreign policies and crazy antics, George still is portrayed as a better alternative to making the Prince of Wales the new king.  Turns out there were spin doctors even back then, some pulling for the King and some for advancing the Prince.  Give me our two-term presidential system any day - even with all its faults, our system only allows someone to screw up the country for 8 years, max.

Reading Shakespeare is part of the King's therapy (ooh, King Lear - irony!) and this sort of reminds me that I've passed up the opportunity to work in some Shakespeare movies, like "Henry V" might have fit here in the chain, or "Richard III", etc.  Oh, well, I don't have copies of those films, or much interest really, so Billy Shakespeare can suck it.  The chain rolls on...

Also starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren (last heard in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"), Rupert Everett (last heard in "The Wild Thornberrys Movie"), Rupert Graves (last seen in "V For Vendetta"), Amanda Donohoe (last seen in "Liar Liar"), with a cameo from John Wood (it drove me nuts, where have I seen him before - ah, he played Falken in "Wargames").

RATING: 5 out of 10 powdered wigs

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lion in Winter

Year 4, Day 116 - 4/25/12 - Movie #1,115

BEFORE: I meant to do this somewhat chronologically, but to fit this one in, I've got to go back before I go forward again.  Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII, and this film centers on Henry II - so I'm going back 6 Henrys, from the 1580's to 1183 or so.  I always get confused with the British royalty coming from different "houses" - Henry VIII was a Tudor king, and Henry II was from the House of Plantagenet?  What the heck is a Plantagenet, anyway?

At least Timothy Dalton carries over from "Mary, Queen of Scots", to maintain some level of consistency.

 THE PLOT: King Henry II's three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won't commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him.

AFTER: And you thought Christmas with your family was tough - sure, you have to set up the tree, decorate the house, prepare the Christmas dinner...but you've never had to fight over the succession to the British throne, have you?   Your family members aren't all plotting to kill each other...well, who knows, maybe they are.

I don't pretend to understand the process of succession - I thought it just automatically went to the king or queen's oldest descendant, or to their next oldest sibling if they had no children.  This film makes it seem like King Henry can call an audible and choose the next king from among his sons - can he do that?   I guess when you start bringing divorces and annulments into the picture, along with legitimate versus illegitimate children, it starts getting more complicated.  And perhaps the next in line for the throne is not the best choice, for one reason or another. 

The royalty/rock star behavior tonight comes in the form of King Henry II, who has imprisoned his wife Eleanor and taken to sleeping with Alais, his son's fiancĂ©e  (but which son she's supposed to marry seems to be a bone of contention).  When Queen Eleanor is released to join the Christmas party, we realize that she and Henry are ready to continue a fight that's been going on for decades.  They bicker so much about their sons and what it means to rule England - and they know what to say to each other to cause maximum damage.  Please, not in front of the children!

There's not much action here, save for a jousting accident early in the film - after that it just becomes a series of negotiations - OK, you get the throne, and you get the girl, and you get the province of Aquitaine.  So it's mostly talky-talky, or perhaps it's screamy-screamy.  Couldn't they just settle who gets the throne with another jousting tournament?  I couldn't follow it after a while, I kept nodding off - so I'm not sure if I failed to be interested in the film, or if it failed me by not holding my interest.  I gave up around 3 am and finished it in the evening.

Problem is, we know how this all has to end.  If that's Eleanor of Aquitaine, then Prince Richard is THAT Richard (the Lion-Hearted) and John is THAT John - anyone who's read or seen Robin Hood will know how this is all going to shake down.  I wish I'd known, I could have watched this film right before those three Robin Hood films, it would have made a fine lead-in.

Also starring Peter O'Toole (last seen in "King Ralph"), Katharine Hepburn (last seen in "Bringing Up Baby"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Thor"), John Castle, Nigel Terry (who later played King Arthur in "Excalibur", nice), and Jane Merrow.

RATING: 4 out of 10 goblets

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mary, Queen of Scots

Year 4, Day 115 - 4/24/12 - Movie #1,114

BEFORE: I went and had that toenail removed today, the process was not as painful as you might think thanks to novocaine and ibuprofen, but if those wear off, I may be in some trouble. Turns out that you don't need your big toe toenail, at least I don't, so I'm hoping that it doesn't grow back.  I had the other big toe toenail removed 30 or so years ago, so my feet finally match again.

Tonight's film covers some of the same events as last night's film, the conflict between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.  House of Tudor vs. House of Stuart - who will win?  Oh, that's right, we already know.  Linking from "Elizabeth: The Golden Age", Cate Blanchett was also in "Hot Fuzz" with Timothy Dalton (last heard in "Toy Story 3"), who appears tonight.

THE PLOT: Mary Stuart, who was named Queen of Scotland when she was only six days old, is the last Roman Catholic ruler of Scotland.  She is imprisoned at he age of 23 by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, the English Queen and her arch adversary.

AFTER: Let me fill in the backstory here on Mary, Q.O.S. - she was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland, and she was crowned Queen at just nine months old.  She married Francis, who became King Francis II of France, when she was 16, but he died when she was 18.  Francis' mother (Catherine de Medici) took the throne of France, so she returned to Scotland.

Her claim to the British throne came due to this whole Protestant/Catholic thing that Henry VIII stirred up.  The Pope didn't like Henry's penchant for divorcing and/or beheading his wives, so the Catholics didn't consider Elizabeth I to be legitimate.  Remove her from the picture, and the throne would belong to Henry VIII's sister, or her descendant, Mary Stuart, aka Mary, Queen of Scots.

Again we see that anyone who doesn't share the same religious beliefs is called a "heretic", and anyone who doesn't share the same political beliefs was called a "traitor".  So in the eyes of the Catholics, Elizabeth I was a heretic, but to the Catholics in Scotland, the Protestant Mary was sort of called the same.  Everyone's so convinced that their religion is the "one, true religion" - jeez, they can't all be right, so it just seems plain to me to assume that they're all wrong.  (except the Mormons, duh)

The film seems to follow the history pretty well - including Elizabeth's reaction to having another claimant to the throne living to the North, which was to suggest a marriage between Mary and Robert Dudley (after his own wife's death).  Dudley was rumored to be the queen's "favorite" (and we know what that means - virgin queen my ass), thereby solving two problems, making peace with Mary and getting rid of her own rumored boyfriend.  But this was something of a dodge - according to this film, she also sent Henry, Lord Darnley along to return some horses, thinking that Mary might fall for Henry instead.  She did, but the film conveniently fails to mention that this Henry was also Mary's first cousin.  Eww.

What follows I won't reveal here (more info available on Wikipedia) but it's like a real-life soap opera set in the 16th century - infidelity, bisexuality, divorce, treason and murder.  It sounds very exciting, but unfortunately this film is mostly talky-talky, and not enough stabby-stabby (or choppy-choppy).  It came off mostly like a stage play, since it was so driven by dialogue, and not so much by action.  I say it so often - show, don't tell.

I'm starting to form a theory that the royalty of the 15th/16th century were a lot like the rock stars of the 1970s/1980s.  Actually back to Jerry Lee Lewis, who also famously married his cousin - but think of the Beatles in Hamburg in the 1960's, how much backstage tail they got.  Then in the 1980's, the gay rights movement might not have gained as much ground as it did without Boy George, George Michael, Elton John living and loving (relatively) publicly.  Rock stars get a pass, as long as they keep putting out great music, who cares about their sex lives?  (Well, actually we do, as they are probably very interesting.)  Even rock royalty like Bruce Springsteen, who got divorced and then married his back-up singer - I can easily draw a connection to Prince Charles, or even Henry VIII.

We went out last Friday and saw one of the biggest rock duos of the 80's, still touring after 37 years (no, not Hall + Oates, and not Wham! - the other one).  We've sometimes found it odd listening to this group's love ballads, which featured two men singing, ostensibly to each other.  Yeah, maybe they were singing simultaneously to two lady loves, but who knows?  It's not hard to imagine them singing the songs to each other.  Again, who cares, but it's sometimes fun to speculate.  We've seen them in concert twice, and both times got a vibe from them that was much larger than any possible rumor or speculation.

At one point in the concert, the lead singer clarified that despite 37 years on the road together, he and his songwriting/singing partner had never been lovers.  Which seemed odd - why bring it up, if it was never an issue?  Then he further clarified by saying they just liked to kiss each other a lot.  Great, now I'm more confused than ever.  But again, if you're a famous rock star, this sort of thing almost doesn't matter.  David Bowie, Elton John, Mick Jagger - I just get the feeling they were leading the sexual revolution in the 1970's, with all that entails.  By contrast, the British royalty was into all kinds of crazy stuff, and this was 300 or 400 years before the sexual revolution!

NITPICK POINT: When we first see Mary, Queen of Scots in this film, she's supposed to be 18.  And she lived until the age of 45.  She looked too old to be 18 at the beginning of the film, and she also looked older than 45 at the end.   Though, to be fair, the real Mary had gray hair at 45.  But she was imprisoned by Elizabeth for 19 years, and the movie just sort of skips over those years, so as a result I didn't feel the impact of her long time in captivity.

Also starring Vanessa Redgrave (last heard in "Cars 2"), Glenda Jackson, Patrick McGoohan (last seen in "The Phantom"), Ian Holm (last seen in "The Aviator"), Trevor Howard, Daniel Massey, and a bit part near the end played by Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch.

RATING: 4 out of 10 bagpipes

Monday, April 23, 2012

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Year 4, Day 114 - 4/23/12 - Movie #1,113

BEFORE: With a full week of royalty-based films coming up, I'm worried about my ability to stay awake - these things tend to be stuffy affairs that are very talky-talky.  Lots of people sitting on thrones and discussing things with their advisors - I'm sure the topics are very important and all, but they don't always tend to make the most arresting, visually interesting movies.  Already I've been dozing off during these Elizabethan pictures, and they seem like some of the more interesting of the bunch, so I may be in trouble.

Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush carry over from "Elizabeth" -

THE PLOT: A mature Queen Elizabeth endures multiple crises late in her reign including court intrigues, an assassination plot, the Spanish Armada, and romantic disappointments.

AFTER: Ah, good, the Spanish Armada.  Lots of intense naval battles, ships on fire, cannonballs - that kept me awake.  Unfortunately, there was 90 minutes of talky movie to slog through before the opening salvo, so I admit I did doze off, and I had to rewind back a few times.  

Once again, I'm trying to parse fact from fiction, and taking the opportunity to browse a bit of the history behind the film.  I'm glad I didn't read too far into the story of Mary, Queen of Scots last night (Wikipedia, the ultimate historical spoiler alert).  Again, religion plays a major factor, as the Catholic king of Spain (Philip II, Elizabeth's ex-brother-in-law) sought to take England from the protestant Queen Elizabeth.  Meanwhile, the internal religious struggle in England was still going on - with Mary, Q.O.S. representing the Catholic interest in the throne, even though she had been deposed in Scotland in favor of her son, James, she seemed to be the focus of treasonous plots while imprisoned in England.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was still entertaining offers of marriage from rulers of various countries, but seemed to have no interest in getting married - this film suggests that the reason for this was that she was a control freak, and perceived marriage as a male-dominated construct, in conflict with her duties in ruling England.  And with any relationship, there are things out of one's control -

The major love interest here is Sir Walter Raleigh, recently returned from a trip to the New World, and he can't wait to get back there and establish a colony in the Queen's name.  But Elizabeth becomes enamored with him, and refuses to let him leave.  Yet, she keeps him at arm's length, unable to establish a physical connection, and settling for an emotional one.

All this, plus a love triangle or two, sets the stage for the Spanish Armada.  (Finally! Cue the special effects!)  Raleigh is front and center, which seems like a bit of a story convenience.  Interesting fact about the armada - the English fleet had more ships, but the armada had more firepower.  So the result was a bit up for grabs - wanna know who won?  Look it up -

The naval battles were fine, but I found the internal religious strife hard to follow - lots of intricate plots, letters being written, and unfortunately none of that is very cinematic.

Also starring Clive Owen (last seen in "Derailed"), Samantha Morton (last seen in "Minority Report"), Abbie Cornish (last seen in "Sucker Punch"), Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"), Jordi Molla.

RATING: 6 out of 10 ruffled collars

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Year 4, Day 113 - 4/22/12 - Movie #1,112

BEFORE: It's about time we had some classy films around here, with proper British monarchs and lords and stuff.  Though just four days ago, I was watching "Hot Tub Time Machine", it's hard to believe.  Linking from "Anastasia", John Cusack was also in "Pushing Tin" with Cate Blanchett (last seen in "Robin Hood"), which enables me to start the monarchy chain with Big Red herself, Elizabeth I.

THE PLOT: A film of the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I of England and her difficult task of learning what is necessary to be a monarch.

AFTER: Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and all that.  Though, really, how sorry should I feel for a queen?  Actually, this is a good opportunity to learn about Elizabeth's background, and determine just how tragic a figure she was.

Being the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, when her mother was executed she was declared illegitimate (neat trick, that) and deprived of the title of Princess.  (So was her half-sister, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon). Henry then had a son, Edward, with his wife, Jane Seymour, and Edward became king at age 9 after Henry VIII's death.  However, he died at age 15, allowing Mary to become queen, and the interesting thing here is that she was Catholic - and if I remember right, Henry had something of a falling-out with the Catholic church, what with all those divorces and beheadings and such.

That's pretty much the backstory to where this film begins - and all this is great stuff for me to learn.  Before this, I couldn't tell you the difference between Queen Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots.  Mary I is Queen at the start of this film, but she is both without child and ill with cancer.  The implication was that her husband (and cousin, eww), Philip of Spain, didn't seem interested in having sex with her - so she was forced to recognized the very Protestant Elizabeth as the heir to the throne.

(ASIDE: I'm trying to recall the exact difference in theology between Catholicism and Protestantism - I think it's that whole transubstantiation thing, where the Catholics believe that bread + wine actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus, and the Protestants recognize it as a more symbolic thing.  I was raised Catholic, but I think I now side with the Protestants on this one.)

Anyway, I wish the film had pointed out the exact nature of the theological differences, but then I think we might have realized how ridiculous all the religious fighting was.  Instead we see a lot of people claiming that others are heretics, and heresy, of course, is defined as "any religious idea someone doesn't like".  I've always been a little wary of the Anglican church, where the monarchs are also key figures in the religion.  As an American, I'm more used to the (theoretical, anyway) separation of church and state, and I'm more comfortable in a country where people are free to practice any religion (except atheism, apparently...).

Once she ascends to the throne, Elizabeth has to deal with these religious differences, along with rivals to her monarchy (more on Mary, Queen of Scots later), marriage proposals from the kings of France and Spain, and assassination attempts.  It's unthinkable these days, but just imagine the Pope saying that it's OK to kill the Queen of England to further the cause of Catholicism.  Isn't there some kind of commandment against that?  There's no disclaimer, like "Thou Shalt Not Kill, except Protestants are OK".

Regarding relationships, the film seemed to take a number of liberties with the specifics, but they got the gist of it right.  Elizabeth had great affection for her childhood friend Robert Dudley, but he was already married. Still, she kept him close at hand while she fended off or considered (or at least pretended to consider) other offers.  Negotiations always seemed to break down, though, or her intended would be outed as a transvestite or something (worse, he looked better in a dress than she did).

I don't see how she could have been known as "The Virgin Queen" if all the boffing shown in this film actually took place.  There's no historical proof of this type of activity, so clearly it may have been added to spice up her story.  So the film has to show her "re-virginizing" herself (wait, you can do that?) and re-establishing her focus on ruling the country alone.

That's it for now - I'll pick up Elizabeth's story again tomorrow night.

Also starring Joseph Fiennes (last seen in "The Darwin Awards"), Geoffrey Rush (last heard in "Green Lantern"), Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough (last seen in "Miracle on 34th Street"), Emily Mortimer (last heard in "Cars 2"), with cameos from Vincent Cassel (last seen in "Derailed"), John Gielgud (last seen in "First Knight").

RATING: 6 out of 10 handmaidens