Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Recasting 2005: "Elizabeth I"

Surprise! I've selected my first television production for this recasting project. And it was one of the easiest decisions among the thirty I've chosen thus far. There's been documentation that the role of English queen Elizabeth I in Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth was one of the few for which Meryl has been turned down. I don't believe that for a moment. Not that it isn't a fantastic role and picture (one of my favorites, in fact). But Streep was easily twenty years too old for the role at the time. Elizabeth ascended to the throne at the age of 25. Streep would've been 45 at the time of filming. Not buying that she was a realistic contender. 

Tom Hooper's two-part HBO series on the monarch's later life had no such age limitations. Meryl would've been a perfect age to play the role originally portrayed by the great Helen Mirren. And if I must say, with the right makeup, Meryl was sort of a dead ringer for Elizabeth--at least based on portraits that have survived:

I mean no disrespect if this is not exactly a flattering depiction. But the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the complexion...I can see Meryl behind it all.

I've had a fascination with the English monarchy since childhood. I suppose it stems from a general interest in history and politics. The monarchy is just such an old institution (that still exists!), I've found it so interesting over the years to have such a tangible link into history. I won't get into how preposterous the notion a modern monarchy actually is, but I've read extensively on Elizabeth, Henry II, William the Conqueror, the uncrowned Empress Matilda, Richard III, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, and devoured movies about all of them and many others. Suffice it to say, it's an appealing prospect to insert Meryl into a project that so thoroughly showcases the life and times of one of the most well-known queens in history. 

The first half of the series primarily follows Elizabeth and her relationship with the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons), and the second, with the much younger Earl of Essex (the dreamy Hugh Dancy). It might seem a little lame that the focus is largely on how two romantic relationships shaped Elizabeth's last two decades, but I think it's important to understand the context under which Elizabeth was a monarch at all. Her half-sister, Mary was England's only previous female crowned head of state, and only reigned for five years. There were all kinds of squabbles about Elizabeth's legitimacy, as the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. To then be thrust into a realm almost exclusively made of men couldn't have been easy. 

It's interesting how Elizabeth refused to marry and therefore produce an heir. That, too, caused all kinds of hand wringing among her advisors and members at court. In this particular series, things are getting to the point where time is running out for that being an option, and eventually, Elizabeth makes known it will not happen. I can only imagine how lonely a place it must have been for her. Not necessarily because she didn't have a husband, but just that she really had no real contemporaries. As a character she was vain, spiteful at times, histrionic, and yet undoubtedly intelligent and shrewd. She was also very conflicted over certain "princely" duties (like sentencing her cousin Mary of Scots to death), only to carry them out if was ultimately in her best interest. 

I can't help but think about how I wish Meryl had ended up making Mary Stuart with Glenn Close in the late 90s. I include that possibility in my reimagined filmography, and enjoy envisioning Meryl in the title role in that movie. Were she to then play Elizabeth as suggested in this recasting project, it would be just like reprising Bette Davis's iconic role of Jane Hudson in a remake of the 1962 classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, only to then go on and portray Joan Crawford in Best Actresss (which eventually was made into a limited series on FX entitled Feud with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon). The Baby Jane remake was a real thing, with Walter Hill planning to direct, with Streep and Sissy Spacek rumored to star. Alas, it never came to fruition.

Elizabeth I was a huge success for HBO. The show itself and Mirren were showered with critical praise. It took home nine Emmy awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Directing (Hooper), Lead Actress (Mirren), and Supporting Actor (Irons), all of course in the Miniseries or TV Movie category. Mirren also won the Golden Globe, while Irons joined her in wining at SAG. The production quality is no where near as expensive or grand-looking as the 1998 film version, but the lead role was no less juicy. 


  1. Wonderful choice Jeff, I bought this for my mother and we both loved it. Mirren was brilliant in the role and the writing was excellent, less flowery than the 1998 movie with was overwrought at times.

    I thought about pinching the wonderful role of HM The Queen from Ms Mirren as well. What a plum role coupled with superb writing and direction.

    If I found 2005 to have a dearth of great roles for females, 2006 was a vast improvement. I already mentioned my ultimate choice for the year is "Notes On A Scandal". I could watch this movie over and over. I also thought the book was such a darkly funny treat. "Barb" Covett was a delicious role, a mixture of snobbish, bitter shrew and lonely aging outcast. It would also have been terrific to see her work alongside Cate Blanchett.

    Although Mirren won virtually ever award under the sun for "The Queen" I have seen more recent appraisals of the nominees saying both Dench and Streep herself should have won the Oscar. Anyways, all three were majestic in 2006.

    1. Queen Elizabeth II is the dullest character ever. I don't know why so many films and tvs are being made to make her interesting. Helen Mirren herself is way more interesting than the real Queen.

    2. I thought Mirren was wonderful in The Queen but it does seem a little strange how overwhelming her sweep was. I would've gone with Dench for Notes on a Scandal (after Meryl of course ha).

    3. I can totally picture Meryl doing something like Notes on a Scandal in the future.

    4. Wasn't "The Good House" a little like "Notes On A Scandal"?

    5. There's a little bit of a similar dynamic in The Good House between people of similar ages, but not nearly as prominent as in Notes on a Scandal.

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  2. Good call! I've given up trying to pick 'em! ;)

    1. Please don't! I enjoy your ideas!

    2. Michael I second this! You've contributed some great choices..

    3. You're both very kind!

      I have been slack in keeping up with the project of late. My husband and I recently had a much-needed week away from our business, which took a lot of preparation to achieve, so I've been distracted. We are extremely lucky in our state of Australia that the pandemic has not impacted us as negatively as many places, so I have been away from my desk more than usual, too.

      We also just got internet streaming to our remote home in the country! The first thing I watched was 'She Devil', and you know what? After all these years I actually thought it was pretty good! Richard and I laughed along and I could finally see Streep's characterisation without all the white noise of pop culture crowding her. The final scene with Mary Fisher, a 'reformed' author, is so fantastic. Streep managed to control and craft around the chaos of that film's production, and the result was nowhere near as bad as I recall. I, too, had bought into the negative view of the whole thing! It's a hoot!

      So I now have plenty of catching up to do in order to comment on the recent re-castings; but I will see to it. I want to go back and look at some of the 1980s picks.

      Anyway... here's my thoughts on 2006.

      What a year for Meryl, blending work with an auteur (Altman) and a massive hit, at last, with 'The Devil Wears Prada'!

      I remember her giving interviews that bridged the big gap between 'Prada' and 'Out of Africa', like she was pleased to be garnering some currency with producers after a long time on the edges.

      In that 2010 Barnard commencement speech, Streep also described the impact of the Miranda Priestly role on male audiences, observing how she'd transitioned from characters like Linda in 'The Deer Hunter' (whom men wanted to date) to those they'd like to BE. It was fascinating, like she'd finally broken the leading lady mould and producers could bank on her, because she was a drawcard for men and women, in her mid fifties!

      This seemed to be breaking every previous industry 'mould' for actresses, and all I could do was think 'see, told you so', after quietly sitting on my Streep fandom for decades and wondering why so many didn't 'get' it.

      I was able to answer many questions from friends and family about her career, and guide viewers to finding films going back to the 1970s that I knew they'd love. Streep had been a flame carried by the minority, now she was another kind of 'it' girl, while the 'it girls' of the era (Paltrow, Blanchett, Swank) were all in supporting roles or plenty of vehicles that failed to launch.

      One thing I noticed about 2006 in real time was Ellen Burstyn's casting in the remake of 'The Wicker Man' in a gender-crossing role (played by Christopher Lee in the original). That was far more groundbreaking than many realised at the time. Burstyn had plenty of horror currency, ever since 'The Exorcist', but it's a rarity for lead roles to be recast across the gender boundary. I look forward to your planned project in that vein, Jeff.

      There are not so many other great roles Streep could have done in 2006 (she had the best one!), but I can see her in 'Running With Scissors' in the Annette Bening part.

      I also like the idea already mooted of her in 'Notes on a Scandal' as Barbara Covett. Maybe that could have been delayed to 2006?

    4. Glad you're doing well and were able to take some time away from work! It feels weird here in the Stats to even let ourselves get optimistic, but Covid numbers continue to decline, and Joe and I have been fortunate to have both received our vaccines already (I because I'm in healthcare, Joe is a teacher).

      2006 really was the big film renaissance for Meryl after Prada. It opened up so many doors for her and got projects green-lit that may not have otherwise.