In 1581, British adventurer Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd, Stage Fright) tries to convince Queen Elizabeth I (Bette Davis) to finance an expedition to the New World.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“It is I who makes the policy of this realm, I and I alone!”
Beautifully shot in CinemaScope in DeLuxe Color, 20th Century Fox’s The Virgin Queen is a surprisingly compelling historical drama. Smoothly directed by German émigré Henry Koster (The Robe), the film plays with facts, but who cares? It’s a well-acted, well-written drama with superb performances.
The Virgin Queen marked Bette Davis’s return to the big screen after a three-year hiatus, but she’s as charismatic and compelling as ever. By the way, this was the second time Davis played Elizabeth I. The first was in Michael Curtiz’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Davis thought she had done a better job on her second try. I’m not sure I agree with her, but she was indeed excellent on both occasions.
Davis’s Bess compares favorably with Flora Robson’s (Fire Over England and The Sea Hawk), Jean Simmons’s (Young Bess), Glenda Jackson’s (Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth R), Judi Dench’s (Shakespeare in Love), Helen Mirren’s (Elizabeth I) and Cate Blanchett’s (Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age). In fact, I think she is the best movie Elizabeth I we have (my favorite is still Jackson in TV’s Elizabeth R). Davis is at her best conveying the temperamental monarch’s insecurities and vulnerabilities, a strong-willed woman torn between duty and personal desires.
Richard Todd and Joan Collins (TV’s Dynasty?), who plays the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and Raleigh’s love interest, are good, but Bette owns this film. Also with Jay Robinson (Caligula in The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators) as Chadwick, Herbert Marshal (The Little Foxes) as Lord Leicester and Dan O’Herlihy (RoboCop) as Lord Derry. Rod Taylor (The V.I.P.s) has a tiny role as Cpl. Gwilym.
The Elizabethan dialogue is fantastic! It’s obvious that writers Harry Brown (A Place in the Sun) and Mindret Lord took the time to recreate old idioms from 16th Century England. And there’s a bit of swashbuckling action thrown in for good measure! The sets and costumes are great too. Mary Wills (The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm) created some eye-popping costumes. Franz Waxman’s (Mr. Skeffington and Cimarron) peppy music score is also excellent.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
In all, The Virgin Queen is a solid movie about one of history’s most famous monarchs. At the very least it would make a great double feature with The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Color, 92 minutes, Not Rated.