Review of the film in The Guardian

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How accurate is the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age?

SOURCE: (A review of the film in The Guardian by historian Alison Weir)

This film, the second about Elizabeth I from director Shekhar Kapur, is just a travesty of history. As a portrait of Elizabeth's reign and Britain's war with Spain, it is grossly inaccurate. The film's locations - cathedrals and bare stone walls - are 300-400 years out of date. The costumes are sloppy, too: anybody who appeared at court had to be formally dressed. You could never get into the Queen's presence, as Clive Owen's dashing Walter Raleigh does, wearing an open-necked shirt.

Owen's Raleigh is a romantic hero for the MTV generation, sailing fire-ships into the Spanish fleet and swinging about on ropes. But the truth is that he shouldn't have been there. Raleigh didn't sail against the armada; he was probably manning coastal defences in Devon. The real Raleigh was very bombastic and full of himself; Elizabeth did like him, but she was never in love with him. She liked to flirt, but there is no evidence of anything emotional between them.

While Raleigh takes centre stage, more important figures get sidelined. Where is William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister? Where is Sir Francis Drake, vice-admiral with the English fleet? As for Mary, Queen of Scots - by her early 40s, the real Mary was crippled with rheumatism, and she certainly wouldn't have spoken with a Scottish accent. She grew up in France, and French was her native language.

The bit that had me in hysterics was Elizabeth addressing the troops at Tilbury in full armour. She would have been about 55 at the time: in the film, she looks like a girl in her 20s. Later, when they showed her on the clifftops in her nightie, peering at the burning armada, I could only cringe.

· Alison Weir is the author of Elizabeth, The Queen.

A final account of the inaccuracies from:

1.  The Babington Plot, one of the conspiracies to assassinate Elizabeth I was portrayed in the movie as having carried out with the shooter coming face to face with the queen and the plot only failed because the gun used for the assassination was unloaded.   The real Babington Plot was discovered before it was executed and the conspirators sentenced to death.   

3.   There’s no Robert Reston, the Jesuit who was ordered by Philip II to do the duty God gave him, in history.  He could be John Ballard, who’s also a Jesuit and a conspirator in the Babington Plot. 

4.  Walter Raleigh played a big role in the English defense against the Spanish Armada.  The real historical hero was given a minute role.  Francis Drake is the leader of the English fleet who went toe to toe against the Spanish forces and defeated them.  

5.  The English fleet was not severely outnumbered and outgunned by the Spanish Armada. In the main battle of Gravelines, the English ships outnumber the Spanish. 

6.  The use of fire-ships by the English fleet was not an act of desperation as portrayed in the film, but an act of brilliant naval tactics.   The fire-ship attacks forced the Spanish fleet to cut their anchors (which troubled them at the later stage of their campaign) and break their formation and positioned themselves against the wind. This enabled the faster English ships to target the Spanish ships.

7.   It was not the severe storm that battered the Spanish Armada and saved England.  The English Navy used better naval tactics and strategy. 

8.   The storm that wrecked the Spanish Armada came later when they were defeated by the English navy at the Battle of Gravelines. Since the English Channel was secured by the English fleet, the Spanish fleet had no choice but to sail around Scotland and Ireland.  That is where the storm battered them. With their anchors cut before the battle of Gravelines, Spanish ships were mercilessly hammered against the rocky coasts of Ireland. 

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