Your RDA of Irony

Hollywood Hystery

Hollywood’s version of history is usually a juvenile simplification.  As long as the battle scenes are exciting, the facts can have a higher mortality rate than the featured infantry.  For instance, an attempted epic called “The Last Legion” found it convenient to depict the Byzantine Empire as being Indian.  Well, Byzantium was the eastern half of the Roman Empire but it wasn’t quite that East.  At least, “The Last Legion” was obviously silly and so no one would mistake it for real history.  While watching it, my blood pressure was never at risk.

However, “Elizabeth”–the 1998 Cate Blanchett travesty–could have killed me.   This film infuriated me.  It was more than the usual simplifications and inaccuracies; “Elizabeth” was fabricating most of the story.  The script got her name and hair color right–and that was about it.  You saw battles and executions that never happened.  Some historical figures were mutated beyond  recognition.  The real Francis Walsingham was a grim puritanical bureaucrat who headed the Elizabethan intelligence service; but for his competence, he could have been the 16th century Dick Cheney.  In “Elizabeth”, however, Walsingham has become an omnisexual James Bond; among his feats, he seduces and assassinates the Queen of Scotland.   I wonder how many film viewers believe that actually happened.

You can imagine my dread of the sequel.  Would Jennifer Lopez play Philip II?  I tried to avoid “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” but in my remote control meanderings I kept colliding with it.  The pageantry lured me, and I decided to risk my health and self-respect by watching the film.  I stopped counting the historical errors and fabrications after the first seven minutes.  (There already were five.)  I just sat watching in resignation and confusion.  Somehow Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake became the same person.  And the director and the scriptwriter eventually abandoned all pretense at coherence.  They could not quite explain how Raleigh/Drake managed with a single ship to sink the Spanish Armada.  In fact, the inanity became contagious.  I considered what absurdities they somehow had omitted from the film. 

Here are a few of my fabrications–which are available for the next sequel: 

Elizabeth visits Stratford-on-Avon Junior High and encourages one of the students to improve his penmanship.

Leonardo da Vinci offers to build Elizabeth an air force, allowing Britain to colonize America.

To confuse the Spanish Armada, Francis Bacon (painter or writer, what’s the difference) camouflages the White Cliffs of Dover to look like Sicilian olive groves.  Ferdinand Magellan, thinking he made the wrong turn at Cadiz, sails the Armada west to the Philippines where the fleet  is devoured by giant termites.  (Only Miguel Cervantes survives to tell the tale.)

I only hope that I am kidding…but I am willing to take the check.

  1. Mary Ann Jung says:

    Oh boy, don’t get me started! They threw Elizabeth’s virginity out first scene, had her chop her hair off when she’d actually lost it to small pox already, made Dudley a Spanish spy although he led the army against Spain etc..The greatest disservice was to say she only decided to rule because she’d lost her man so she’d paint hersel white like the Virgin Mary and be miserable the rest of her life. I far prefer your fanciful fabrications to the numbskulls on “The Tudors” who try to pass their porn off as truth!

  2. Eugene Finerman says:

    Dear Mary Ann,

    Given Dudley’s competence as an English general, he could have been mistaken for a Spanish spy.

    Regarding the Tudors on ShowT&A, do you suspect that the hot tub scene with Thomas More and Catherine of Aragon was historically inaccurate?


  3. Wimple says:

    Oh no! I have Elizabeth from Netflicks currently sitting at home, next to view! I couldn’t get through the first episode of the Tudors, hated Golden Years… This does not bode well.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Wimple,

      Public tortures and laborious executions were quite popular in 16th century England. Watching “Elizabeth” will give you the vicarious thrill of being a captured Jesuit.
      However, I can recommend several fine TV dramas on Ms. Tudor. HBO did an excellent two part biography on her, starring the superb Helen Mirren. And under 35 years of cobwebs, some library shelf may have the 6 part series starring Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth.

      Good luck…or a martyr’s fortitude if you bother watching the Blanchett farce.


      • Wimple says:

        Thanks for the tips, Eugene. I’ve seen both of those versions – Glenda Jackson WAS Elizabeth; didn’t care for Jeremy Irons in his role in the other (and I just finished watching all of the original Brideshead Revisited, so you know I have nothing against J.I.!) Guess I’ll give this Elizabeth a try, seeing as it’s sitting right there. If it gets too tortuous I can always stop the onslaught.

        • Eugene Finerman says:

          Dear Wimple,

          I must mention one other remarkable interpretation of Queen Elizabeth I and, despite the anachronism, it does relate to Evelyn Waugh. In “Blackadder II” the usually dramatic actress Miranda Richardson portrays Elizabeth as a demented debutante, one of those fatuous socialites from Waugh’s “Vile Bodies.” Richardson is hilarious as is the entire series.


          • Wimple says:

            Ohhh – I love me some Rowan Atkinson! How did you know? Think I’ll put this on my netflicks list as I have seen some, but not all of it.
            Thanks much!

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