The 1998 film “Elizabeth” by “The Tudors” creator Michael Hurst has a longstanding reputation as a sort of guilty pleasure among those who love Tudor history and re-enact various facets of Elizabethan England. Well written and often beautiful to watch, it can be great fun to watch — if you can stomach the many historical errors of course.
It’s a film I’ve more or less enjoyed (depending on my mood regarding the inaccuracies) since it first came out.
Standing out from the all star cast of Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush is one actor whose name I honestly never noticed in all these years. The role: Thomas Howard, the Fourth Duke of Norfolk (not to be confused with his grandfather, also named Thomas Howard, the Third Duke of Norfolk who was maternal uncle to Anne Boleyn). The actor: Christopher Eccleston.
In a film fraught with constant historical licenses (for example early in the film Robert Dudley stands at Elizabeth’s side when she is notified she is accused of treason following the failed Wyatt Rebellion of 1554. In fact Robert Dudley participated in Wyatt’s Rebellion and was arrested several weeks before Elizabeth), Christopher Eccleston’s performances stand strong. They are, arguably, perhaps the best reason to watch “Elizabeth,” portraying Thomas Howard as accurately as the script allows with the coolness, detachment, and stage presence that audiences came to love seven years later in the role that has made Eccleston a household name.
In both roles Eccleston dominates each scene — even when he is standing (or in the case of Elizabeth, often bowing) still. You literally cannot take your eyes off him; he stands out from every ensemble, no matter how large.
And so despite all Elizabeth’s errors, I find myself watching this film time and time again, sucking up the annoying part and fast forwarding past the explicit sections (including some very explicit sex scenes featuring a very naked Eccleston where nothing is left to the imagination). The history of the film is often dreadful — more so now than ever for me following the 2015 release of “Queen Elizabeth Tudor: Journey to Gloriana” and all the research I put into it. But Eccleston’s performances are truly that good. He is the best reason to watch this film and the best reason to watch Dr. Who, a series I have, until very very recently ignored.
Whether your passion is history or Dr. Who, Christopher Eccleston makes “Elizabeth” a film worth watching.