Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Bette Davis Week: 'The Virgin Queen' (1955)

The Virgin Queen marks Bette Davis' second time playing Queen Elizabeth I, after 1939's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. In that movie, a younger Elizabeth had a fling with the Earl of Essex, played by Errol Flynn; here, the older, more brittle Elizabeth falls for Sir Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd). In both cases, the leading man is no match for Davis, although at least here Raleigh has plenty to do, as the movie was originally conceived as a story about him, before Davis came on board as Elizabeth. Todd is certainly dashing, although Raleigh is written as a fairly one-dimensional square-jawed hero, and Elizabeth as more of a jealous harpy.

Davis' Elizabeth had more nuance in Private Lives, but she still brings impressive intensity to the role here, in what amounts to a relatively small part (she shot all of her scenes in 12 days). A young Joan Collins is the real romantic lead, as a fresh-faced courtier Raleigh falls in love with and secretly marries. The love triangle turns the movie into a bit of a soap opera, with melodramatic faux-Shakespearean dialogue. The Oscar-winning costumes and sets are gorgeous, but the characters are mostly one-dimensional, and the story has only a passing resemblance to actual history.

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