Elizabeth I on screen

Elizabeth I is played on screen by mother and daughter team Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson in ANONYMOUS. We look back at other portrayals of Elizabeth in cinema…

Elizabeth Tudor – daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – was the fifth and final monarch of the Tudor Dynasty. The Queen sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess has fascinated movie audiences for years. This week Elizabeth I is played on screen by mother and daughter team Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson in Anonymous. To celebrate, Movies.ie takes a look back at five of the best portrayals of Elizabeth I on screen…

Sarah Bernhardt in Queen Elizabeth (1912)

Made 40 years before Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne in 1952, the first film to feature Elizabeth I (as we now know her) starred the legendary Sarah Bernhardt as the Virgin Queen. The film depicts episodes from the life of Queen Elizabeth I, with particular focus on her relationship with the Earl of Essex; Robert Devereaux. Queen Elizabeth was the most successful film of Bernhardt’s career.


Jean Simmons in Young Bess (1953)

Elizabeth I’s childhood is an area that has always intrigued audiences. As the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate at the age of three, when her mother was executed. The film was based on a novel by Margaret Irwin and focuses on an ill-fated love affair between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Although the film has been accused of playing fast and loose with the truth, it was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1954.

Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Dame Judi Dench won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love; one of the shortest performances ever to win an Oscar. Dench appears in three short scenes in the movie – a total of 8 minutes – but wholly commanded the audience’s attention. It also helped that the monarch’s appearances in the movie were strategically placed that while she may have been gone from the screen, she was never quite forgotten.


Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Cate Blanchett played the Virgin Queen twice on to critical acclaim. First in 1998 in Elizabeth; a film that chronicles the young Queen’s struggle to learn what it means to be monarch, and again in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. In this film, Elizabeth dealt with multiple crises late in her reign, including an assassination attempt and the Spanish Armada. Cate Blanchett was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for both her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I.

Quentin Crisp in Orlando (1993)

Quentin Crisp played Gloriana in Sally Potter’s 1993 film Orlando. The film, based on a novel by Virginia Woolf, tells the story of an immortal named Orlando who starts life as an Elizabethan nobleman. Queen Elizabeth commands Orlando never to fade and never to grow old, and over 300 years he transforms from man to woman. Quentin Crisp – who had cultivated his outlandishly effeminate appearance in his personal life – won acclaim for his dignified and touching performance as the Queen in her later years. 


Honourable mentions go to Miranda Richardson for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder II, Helen Mirren for playing the character in the 2005 TV show Elizabeth I and Anne Marie Duff for the TV mini series The Virgin Queen.


Words – Brogen Hayes