Theatrical release poster
Directed byShekhar Kapur
Written byMichael Hirst
Produced by
CinematographyRemi Adefarasin
Edited byJill Bilcock
Music byDavid Hirschfelder
Distributed byPolyGram Filmed Entertainment[1]
Release dates
  • 8 September 1998 (1998-09-08) (Venice)
  • 23 October 1998 (1998-10-23) (United Kingdom)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$30 million
Box office$82 million[2]

Elizabeth is a 1998 British biographical period drama film directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Michael Hirst. It stars Cate Blanchett in the title role of Elizabeth I of England, with Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud, and Richard Attenborough in supporting roles. The film is based on the early years of Elizabeth's reign, where she is elevated to the throne after the death of her half-sister Mary I, who had imprisoned her. As she establishes herself on the throne, she faces plots and threats to take her down.

Elizabeth premiered at the 55th Venice International Film Festival on 8 September 1998 and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 23 October. The film became a critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Kapur's direction, costume design, production values and most notably Blanchett's titular performance, bringing her to international recognition, while the film grossed $82 million against its $30 million budget.

The film received three nominations at the 56th Golden Globe Awards, including for the Best Motion Picture – Drama, with Blanchett winning Best Actress. It received twelve nominations at the 52nd British Academy Film Awards, winning five awards, including Outstanding British Film, and Best Actress (for Blanchett). At the 71st Academy Awards, it received seven nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actress (for Blanchett), winning Best Makeup. In 2007, Blanchett and Rush reprised their roles in Kapur's follow-up film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which covers the later part of Elizabeth's reign.


In 1558, forty-two year old Catholic Queen Mary I of England, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, dies, presumably from a cancerous tumor in her womb. Mary's heir presumptive and twenty-five year old half sister, Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was under house arrest for suspected involvement in Thomas Wyatt the Younger's rebellion, is now freed from her imprisonment and crowned as Queen of England.

As briefed by her adviser, Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth inherits a distressed England besieged by debts, crumbling infrastructure, hostile neighbors, and treasonous nobles within her administration, chief among them, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Cecil tells Elizabeth that she must marry, produce an heir, and secure her rule. Unimpressed with her suitors, Elizabeth delays her decision and continues her affair with Lord Robert Dudley, her childhood friend. Cecil appoints Francis Walsingham, a Protestant exile returned from France, to act as Elizabeth's bodyguard and adviser.

Mary of Guise, acting as regent for her young daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, brings an additional 4,000 French troops to neighboring Scotland. Unfamiliar with military strategy and browbeaten by Norfolk at the war council, Elizabeth orders a military response, which proves disastrous when the professional French soldiers defeat the inexperienced, ill-trained English forces. Walsingham tells Elizabeth that Catholic lords and priests intentionally deprived Elizabeth's army of proper soldiers and used their defeat to argue for Elizabeth's removal. Realizing the depth of the conspiracy against her and her dwindling options, Elizabeth accepts Mary of Guise's conditions to consider marrying her nephew Henry, Duke of Anjou.

To stabilise her rule and heal England's religious divisions, Elizabeth proposes the Act of Uniformity, which unites English Christians under the Church of England and severs their connection to the Vatican. In response to the Act's passage, the Vatican sends a priest to England to aid Norfolk and his cohorts in their growing plot to overthrow Elizabeth. Unaware of the plot, Elizabeth meets Henry of France but ignores his advances in favor of Lord Robert. William Cecil confronts Elizabeth over her indecisiveness about marrying and reveals that Lord Dudley is married. Elizabeth rejects Henry's marriage proposal when she discovers he is a cross-dresser and confronts Lord Dudley about his secret, fracturing their affair and banishing him from her private rooms.

Elizabeth survives an assassination attempt, evidence implicating Mary of Guise. Elizabeth sends Walsingham to meet with Mary secretly in Scotland, under the guise of once again planning to marry Henry. Instead, Walsingham assassinates Guise, inciting French enmity against Elizabeth. When William Cecil asks her to solidify relations with the Spanish, Elizabeth dismisses him from her service, choosing instead to follow her own counsel.

Walsingham warns of another plot to kill Elizabeth spearheaded by the Catholic priest carrying letters of conspiracy. Under Elizabeth's orders, he apprehends the priest, who divulges the names of the conspirators and a Vatican agreement to elevate Norfolk to the English crown if he weds Mary, Queen of Scots. Walsingham arrests Norfolk and executes him and every conspirator except Lord Robert. Elizabeth grants Lord Robert his life as a reminder to herself how close she came to danger.

Drawing inspiration from the divine, Elizabeth cuts her hair and models her appearance after the Virgin Mary. Proclaiming herself to be married to England, she ascends the throne as the "Virgin Queen."



The costuming and shot composition of the coronation scene are based on Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

This portrait "The Coronation of Elizabeth" was used as the basis for the photography and costume of Cate Blanchett during the coronation scene in the film. This is a copy (attrib. Nicholas Hilliard) of a now lost original.

Principal photography began on 2 September 1997 and completed on 2 December 1997 [3]

Kapur's original choice for the role was Emily Watson, but she turned it down.[4] Cate Blanchett was chosen to play Elizabeth after Kapur saw a trailer of Oscar and Lucinda.[5] According to the director's commentary, Kapur mentioned that the role of the Pope (played by Sir John Gielgud) was originally offered to, and accepted by, Marlon Brando. However, plans changed when Kapur noted that many on set would probably be concerned that Brando would be sharing the set with them for two days.

A large proportion of the indoor filming, representing the royal palace, was conducted in various corners of Durham Cathedral – its unique lozenge-carved nave pillars are clearly identifiable.[6][7]

Historical accuracy

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Elizabeth received some criticism for factual liberties it takes and for its distortion of the historical timeline to present events which occurred in the middle to later part of Elizabeth's reign as occurring at the beginning.[8][9] In his entry for Elizabeth I in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Patrick Collinson described the film "as if the known facts of the reign, plus many hitherto unknown, were shaken up like pieces of a jigsaw and scattered on the table at random."[9][10] Carole Levin, reviewing the film in 1999 for Perspectives on History, criticised the movie for portraying Elizabeth as "a very weak and flighty character who often showed terrible judgment", in contrast to historical descriptions of her as a strong, decisive, and intelligent ruler. In particular, Levin described the movie's portrayal of Elizabeth as dependent on Walsingham, in addition to the completely inaccurate portrayal of her relationship with Robert Dudley, as being instances in the film where the character appears weak and overpowered by the men around her.[8]

There are inaccuracies in the timeline of events prior to her accession. The film depicts Mary I of England as being pregnant prior to Elizabeth's imprisonment. In actuality, Elizabeth was imprisoned on 18 March 1554 and released in May that year; it was not announced that the queen was believed to be pregnant until September of that same year.

The opening scene depicting the burning of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer is inaccurate. Ridley and Latimer, portrayed by Rod Culbertson and Paul Fox, respectively, were burned together on 16 October 1555. Both actors performed the role younger than the ages of their characters at their deaths. There was no female martyr burned with them as shown in the film. The film's titles begin with 'England 1554', but Protestant persecution began in 1555 after Wyatt's rebellions, Elizabeth's arrest, and the marriage between Mary and Phillip.

Elizabeth was put under house arrest at Woodstock Palace, not Hatfield House, but did not remain there until her sister's death. On 17 April 1555, she was summoned to Hampton Court to be with Mary during the queen's delivery. When Mary did not give birth, Elizabeth remained at court until after it had become apparent that Mary was not pregnant and after her husband Philip II of Spain had gone abroad. It was only after this time that Elizabeth was finally able to return to Hatfield.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is wrongly depicted as having been a co-conspirator in the plot against Elizabeth. In fact, he remained one of Elizabeth's closest friends and supporters until his death in 1588, long after their romantic relationship had ended. The movie portrays Elizabeth as being ignorant of the fact that Dudley is married; it is her discovery of this fact that contributes to the breakdown of their relationship. In reality, Elizabeth was fully aware of Dudley's marriage to his first wife, Amy Robsart, who lived in isolation in the country, latterly suffering from breast cancer. Robsart died from a fall downstairs in 1560, two years into Elizabeth's reign, a fact never mentioned in the film.[8] Dudley never converted to Catholicism, remaining a staunch Protestant all his life.

Mary of Guise was not assassinated by Walsingham, but died naturally from oedema on 11 June 1560.[11] She was not the aunt of Henry, Duke of Anjou but she was his second cousin once removed. Their common ancestor was John VIII, Count of Vendôme.

William Cecil was portrayed by the 74-year-old Richard Attenborough in the film, but the real Cecil was half that age when Elizabeth was crowned, thirteen years older than she.[12] Likewise she never compelled him to retire, as depicted in the film. He remained her chief adviser and was Lord High Treasurer from 1572 until his death in 1598.[9]

The film portrays Kat Ashley, head lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, as being the same age as Elizabeth, but in reality, at the time of the then-25-year-old Elizabeth's coronation, Ashley was around 57, and she died six years later in 1565. Lettice Knollys, one of Elizabeth's real ladies in-waiting, has her name changed to Isabel Knollys. Her love affair with Robert Dudley is shown on screen; in real life when they married in 1578. Lettice did not die young but died years after Elizabeth, when Charles I of England and Scotland was on the throne. The ladies-in-waiting are not named and many of them are portrayed as being the same age as Elizabeth, but when Elizabeth succeeded the throne in 1559, ladies in-waiting like Blanche Parry, Catherine Knollys, Bess of Hardwick, and Anne Rede were above 30.

Bishop Stephen Gardiner died in 1555, before Elizabeth came to the throne and thus cannot possibly have been involved in the Ridolfi plot. The Earl of Arundel was not executed for his role as he was put under house arrest and died in 1580. He is also shown to have a family but in reality, he had one surviving daughter during Elizabeth's reign, Jane FitzAlan, nor was he an elderly man during the early years of Elizabeth's reign. The Earl of Sussex was actually a loyal supporter of Elizabeth who would not have tried to overthrow her. Alvaro de la Quadra died in 1564 and was not involved in the Plot but it was the Spanish ambassador, Guerau de Espés.

Although the idea of marriage to Henry, Duke of Anjou (who was actually not Mary of Guise's nephew but son of Henry II) was briefly entertained, Elizabeth never actually met him, and moreover there is no evidence that he was a cross-dresser, as depicted in the film. Further, the film portrays the courtship as occurring at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, when in fact it occurred in 1570, twelve years into her rule. The film also glosses over the considerable real-life age difference between the Elizabeth and Henry (in 1570 she was 37 years old and he 19).[12] It was Henry's younger brother Francis, Duke of Anjou, 22 years younger than Elizabeth, who seriously pursued the English queen beginning in 1578, when she was 45 years old and he was 23. Furthermore, in the coronation scene, it is mentioned that Henry is already king indicating the age difference. Henry was 7 when Elizabeth was crowned and Francis was 3. The French Valois children at the time of Elizabeth's ascension are shown at least 10-15 years older.

At the end of the film, Elizabeth is shown as having decided against marriage. In fact, she entertained the idea of marriage with several European monarchs well into middle age, though perhaps as a diplomatic ploy. Candidates included her former brother-in-law, Philip II of Spain; Archduke Charles of Austria; Eric XIV of Sweden; Adolphus, Duke of Holstein; and the Valois princes Francis and Henry (later King Henry III of France and Poland).[13]


Main article: Elizabeth (soundtrack)


Elizabeth premiered in September 1998 at the Venice Film Festival; it was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.[14] It premiered in London on 2 October 1998 and it premiered in the United States on 13 October 1998.[14] It opened in the United Kingdom on 23 October 1998[14] and opened in limited release in the United States in nine cinemas on 6 November 1998, grossing $275,131.[15] Its widest release in the United States and Canada was in 624 cinemas,[15] and its largest weekend gross throughout its run in cinemas in the US and Canada was $3.8 million in 516 cinemas,[15] ranking No.9 at the box office.[16] Elizabeth went on to gross $30 million in the United States and Canada, and a total of $82 million worldwide.[17]


Critical response

The film was well received by critics. It holds an approval rating of 83% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 65 reviews, with an average score of 7.40/10. The site's consensus reads: "No mere historical drama, Elizabeth is a rich, suspenseful journey into the heart of British Royal politics, and features a typically outstanding performance from Cate Blanchett."[18] Metacritic reports a score of 75 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]

Accusations of anti-Catholicism

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights accused the film of anti-Catholicism, stating that the film gives the "impression that the religious strife was all the doing of the Catholic Church", noting that the review in The New York Times considered it "resolutely anti-Catholic" complete with a "scheming pope" and repeating the charge made in the Buffalo News that "every single Catholic in the film is dark, cruel and devious."[20]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Alison Owen, Eric Fellner, and Tim Bevan Nominated [21]
Best Actress Cate Blanchett Nominated
Best Art Direction Art Direction: John Myhre;
Set Decoration: Peter Howitt
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated
Best Makeup Jenny Shircore Won
Best Original Dramatic Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Awards Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Remi Adefarasin Nominated [22]
Art Directors Guild Awards Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film John Myhre Nominated [23]
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Alison Owen, Eric Fellner, and Tim Bevan Nominated [24]
Outstanding British Film Alison Owen, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, and Shekhar Kapur Won
Best Direction Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Cate Blanchett Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Geoffrey Rush Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Michael Hirst Nominated
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Won
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Nominated
Best Editing Jill Bilcock Nominated
Best Make-Up and Hair Jenny Shircore Won
Best Original Film Music David Hirschfelder Won
Best Production Design John Myhre Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Remi Adefarasin Won [25]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won [26]
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Best Original Score David Hirschfelder Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Movie Nominated [27]
Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Best Supporting Actor Geoffrey Rush (also for Shakespeare in Love) Nominated
Best Cinematography Remi Adefarasin Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Picture Nominated [28]
Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won
Breakthrough Artist Joseph Fiennes (also for Shakespeare in Love) Won
Empire Awards Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won [29]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [30]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Cate Blanchett Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Most Promising Actress Cate Blanchett Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards Actress of the Year Won
British Producer of the Year Alison Owen, Tim Bevan, and Eric Fellner Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 3rd Place [31]
Best Director Shekhar Kapur Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won [32]
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [33]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Cate Blanchett Won
Best Director Shekhar Kapur Nominated
Best Art Direction John Myhre Nominated
Best Costume Design Alexandra Byrne Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Cate Blanchett Nominated [34]
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture 6th Place [35]
Best Actress Cate Blanchett (also for Oscar and Lucinda) Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Cate Blanchett Won [36]
Venice International Film Festival Max Factor Award Jenny Shircore Won

See also


  1. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". BBFC. Archived from the original on 21 May 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 September 2023. Retrieved 8 September 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Elizabeth". www.tcm.com. Retrieved 25 February 2024.
  4. ^ Archerd, Army (17 February 1999). "'Jackie' thesp sez she's no. Several Established Actresses considered for the role were Minnie Driver, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta Jones, Juilette Beoniche, Lucy Lawless, Pasty Kensit, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kristen Scott Thomas and Helena Bonham Carter. 'Elizabeth'". Variety. Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  5. ^ "Arts: Her Brilliant Career" Archived 11 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine independent.co.uk
  6. ^ "Elizabeth Film Locations". Movie-Locations. Archived from the original on 7 June 2019. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Film & TV Locations". This Is Durham. Archived from the original on 25 April 2019. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Carole Levin (1 April 1999). "Elizabeth: Romantic Film Heroine or Sixteenth-Century Queen?". Perspectives on History. Archived from the original on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Eric Josef Carlson (2007). "Teaching and Technology: Teaching Elizabeth Tudor with Movies: Film, Historical Thinking, and the Classroom". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 38 (2): 419–428. doi:10.2307/20478367. JSTOR 20478367.
  10. ^ Patrick Collinson. "Elizabeth I (1553–1603)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. p. 76.
  11. ^ CSP Scotland, vol. i (1898), 389 and CSP Foreign Elizabeth, vol. ii (1865), 604, 29 April 1560.
  12. ^ a b Alex von Tunzelmann (21 September 2011). "Elizabeth I rules over time and space". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  13. ^ "The Tudor Age 1480–1603" Guy, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain; Ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, 266
  14. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Release dates". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  15. ^ a b c "Elizabeth (1998) – Weekend Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 6 June 2009. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  16. ^ Weekend Box Office - November 27–29, 1998 Archived 18 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Box Office Mojo. (8 July 2011). Retrieved on 8 August 2011.
  17. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 9 June 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2007.
  18. ^ "Elizabeth (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on 1 August 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  19. ^ "Elizabeth Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 2 June 2018. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  20. ^ "Elizabeth is 'resolutely anti-Catholic'" Archived 19 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, January–February 1999
  21. ^ "The 71st Academy Awards (1999) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
  22. ^ "The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography". Archived from the original on 2 August 2011.
  23. ^ "3rd Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards". Archived from the original on 27 September 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  24. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1999". BAFTA. 1999. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  25. ^ "Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film" (PDF). British Society of Cinematographers. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  26. ^ "Chicago Film Critics Awards – 1998–07". Chicagofilmcritics.org. Archived from the original on 17 October 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  27. ^ "5th Annual Chlotrudis Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Retrieved 27 May 2024.
  28. ^ Clinton, Paul (26 January 1999). "Broadcast Film critics name 'Saving Private Ryan' best film". CNN. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  29. ^ "1999 Empire Awards". Empireonline.co.uk. 1999. Archived from the original on 16 August 2000.
  30. ^ "Winners & Nominees: Elizabeth". Golden Globe Awards. Archived from the original on 18 May 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Awards". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  32. ^ "Online Film Critics Society". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  33. ^ "International Press Academy website – 1999 3rd Annual SATELLITE Awards". Archived from the original on 1 February 2008.
  34. ^ "The 5th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards: Nominees and Recipients". Screen Actors Guild. 1999. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  35. ^ "1998 SEFA Awards". Southeastern Film Critics Association. Retrieved 27 May 2024.
  36. ^ "TFCA Awards 1998". Toronto Film Critics Association. 29 May 2014. Archived from the original on 23 December 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2021.