Hollywood Blockbusters and Historical Reality

Michael Morrogh sees value in historical films, despite their evident imperfections.

Elizabethan Errors

A recent film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), has been called a travesty of history by a number of historians. They point out its unrealistic setting, in that much of the film appears within a cathedral and so gives a wrong impression of the Queen’s various palaces. Mary, Queen of Scots, is given a Scottish accent, whereas it should have been French. Elizabeth’s chief minister is Sir Francis Walsingham – one of the leading Privy Councillors, certainly, but the position ought really to go to Lord Burghley, who does not feature at all. The male romantic interest, Sir Walter Ralegh, played by the swarthy Clive Owen, smoulders at court in an open necked shirt as if he had just leapt off a ship, whereas anyone in the Queen’s presence at Court had to be formally dressed. An important individual missing in the climax scenes of the defeat of the Armada is Sir Francis Drake who, although not in overall command, played a key part in launching the fire ships towards the anchored Spanish fleet, forcing their captains to cut the cables and be blown into the North Sea. In the film the fire ships are launched by Ralegh, who was not even at sea.

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