The idea for this sprang from an unlikely place. To make a short story long….it all started with that damnable Netflix!
With a dearth of interesting new titles to fill my Netflix queue, I’ve relied on their recommendation algorithm to unearth previous works unbeknownst to me. Thus into my instant queue popped Elizabeth R – a 6-part BBC/Masterpiece Theater miniseries from 1971 starring Glenda Jackson in the title role.
While watching it (I’m currently half way through the series), I realized, “Damn, I love me some Elizabeth the 1st!” I can scarcely find a historical figure more interesting and rife with drama than the Virgin Queen who during her over 40 year reign weathered the most tumultuous of times to foster a political atmosphere that allowed for the rise of the world’s greatest empire and united a people under a national identity that lasts to this day. Her steadfast determination to secure her power by not marrying a man, but instead marrying her people, all while making claims to have been guided by God himself, she engendered a cult-like celebrity status that fueled a propaganda machine where England became an unstoppable force protected while under the flag of their Virgin Queen. They became an empire that would, in her time and beyond, secure its place in the Old World as well as the New. Hell, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that had Elizabeth not created the milieu that she did, there would’ve been no colonies…no United States. Historians can nitpick all they want about how much power she actually wielded (obviously she surrounded herself with wise council) and can measure her successes (the defeat of the Spanish Armada) with her failures (of which there are more than a few), but she clearly did something right, and she ruled successfully by knowing best the heart of her people…perhaps even better than she knew her own.
And, oh, how writers and filmmakers have loved her. I’ve been enamored by the more recent depictions of her life – from Shekar Kupur’s launching of Cate Blanchett’s career in his Godfather-inspired Elizabeth, to Helen Mirren’s searing portrait of her later years in Tom Hooper’s HBO/BBC telefilm Elizabeth I, to Shekar Kapur’s misguided and overblown sequel where Blanchett chewed the scenery in Elizabeth: The Golden Age…I can’t get enough of the lady.
This Elizabeth R is striking in that it is arguably the most historically accurate and brought to light moments from the Queen’s life I had not previously been privy to: her relationship with her eventually beheaded stepmother Katherine, her teenage dalliances with her randy caregiver (also executed) and her battle with smallpox. Filmed on location in actual British palaces, the production oozes with authenticity and in the lead role, Glenda Jackson is a revelation. It strikes me most how much of Blanchett’s later performance must’ve been informed and inspired by Jackson’s turn.
With Jackson, one almost feels like you’ve actually met the Queen and the intimate scope of the miniseries makes you feel like a fly on the wall of her court…or her bedchamber.
And that made me think…what if I could’ve actually been there? Queen Elizabeth I ranks near the top of my list of historical figures I would’ve like to have met. So what if I could travel back in time and have a moment of truth and a meal with anyone from history?
Here’s my Spin:
In chronological order, I present…
My Top Ten Dead Historical Figures/Famous People With Whom I Would Most Like to Share a Meal While Interrogating:
- Alexander the Great – This dude conquered the known world by the age of 30! What the hell have I been doing with my life?
- Cleopatra – C’mon, don’t you want to know what was going on in her head when she was making deals in the bedroom and on the throne with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony?
- Elizabeth I - Umm, did I not already make myself clear on this one?
- William Shakespeare – Did he know his plays would last this long and still be considered timely 500 years later? What was his favorite work of his?
- Benjamin Franklin - More so than anything, I think this guy would’ve been fun as hell to have a meal and a pint (or two or three) with. What did he think of the long-term prospects of the nation he helped form?
- Napoleon – Another head-case who tried to rule the world. Did he really think he could pull it off?
- Abraham Lincoln – He preserved the union and freed a people. Did he think it would last? Did he think he would be shot?
- Gandhi – I believe someone said at his funeral, “One would scarcely believe a man like this ever lived.” Again, I’d like to know what really made him tick.
- Stanley Kubrick - More so than anything I talk about movies on this blog, and he’s my favorite film director of all-time, so this is a no-brainer. Sample questions: Were you on drugs when you made 2001? Were you a member of a secret cabal ruling the world? Did you purposely put in subliminal messages in your films speaking to such or were you just having a laugh?
- Graham Greene – My favorite writer of all-time, so, like, duh, of course I want to have a meal with him…perhaps on Capri…and murder a whole bottle of scotch…and ask him if he really was a spy and if he really believed in God.
My apologies to the following with whom I would like to schedule dinner at a later time: That Guy Whose Handprints are on the Walls of Chauvet Cave, Moses, Homer, Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pocahontas, George Washington, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigmund Freud, Adolph Hitler, Albert Eisntein, William Faulkner, Winston Churchill, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Martin Luther King Jr., Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, L. Ron Hubbard, Andrew Wyeth
Who would make your top ten?