After receiving a generally positive response to episode 1, Becoming Elizabeth unleashed a whole load of online controversy with episode 2 (and prompted a direct response from a cast member to one review). Read on to find out more…
The controversy in this episode came from the protrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with Thomas Seymour. In particular, the two moments at which she initiated a kiss between the two. This lead to fears amongst historians of the period that is going to be depicted as a romanticised consensual relationship, rather than showing a 14 year old who (whilst she might have had a crush on Seymour) was frightened by his advances. Claire Ridgway of the Elizabeth Files made a video expressing her disappointment with the handling of the Seymour storyline which you can find here. One of the responses she received was from Tom Cullen, the actor who plays Thomas Seymour. You can read about his response in full here but, in short, he confirms the storyline is going to be about to about power and grooming.
Having rewatched the scenes a couple of times, I think that Elizabeth does look uncomfortable and fearful during her encounters with Seymour even whilst participating in (and initiating) the kisses. As I mentioned in my episode 1 review, I think the decision to age up the actor is having an impact on how this storyline is being interpreted by viewers. Alicia von Rittberg does look on the youthful side but she is 28 and when you see her alongside 18 year old Bella Ramsey as Lady Jane Grey you can see the difference. I don’t think there would have been any fear that the storyline would play out as romanticised consensual relationship if Elizabeth looked closer to 14 years old.
– The relationship between the three royal siblings. I absolutely loved seeing this playing out with Edward growing more confident in his power and his Protestant religion, and as Mary beginning to struggle with the brother she loves ordering her to abandon her faith. And Elizabeth is stuck in the middle, having to choose which sibling she will side with.
– Edward. Romola Garai as Mary and Oliver Zetterström as Edward VI both gave marvelous performances in this episode. I am going to pick out Zetterström though for the way in which he descended from imperious King to young boy begging his older sister not to embarass him. I felt it really captured the fact that this is a child who has been propelled into the most powerful role in the country before he reaches his teens.
– Small details! There are some lovely touches in this production for fans of Tudor history. I liked the glimpses of the garter collars as part of Edward VI and Henry Grey’s collars. I also loved that we were the girls sleeping on the floor of Elizabeth’s bedchamber, continuing the trend from episode 1 of showing how little privacy people enjoyed.
– Katherine Parr. Unlike last week when I was intrigued by Katherine, this week I found her portrayal rather annoying. They were clearly leaning into the fact that she and Thomas Seymour had several public arguments with Edward Seymour and that there was gossip about her remarriage, but she just came across as a bit of a braying idiot who, in at least one scene, seemed drunk.
– Framlingham Castle. I don’t normally object to venues standing in for other locations – after all a lot of Tudor buildings have either been lost or are ruined. Indeed, Framlingham Castle is largely ruined with no surving 16th-century domestic buildings. However, the decision to have Haddon Hall stand in for Framlingham was jarring. We get a view of riders sweeping over a river and up to the grey walled house with the hills of Derbyshire visible in the distance. Framlingham, in contrast, is located in the considerably flatter countryside of Suffolk with a mere (lake) by its walls. It just didn’t look right. Also, being slightly nitpicky, I thought it an odd choice to say that Mary had gone to Framlingham. Of the estates and houses she held in East Anglia (most of them formerly the property of the Duke of Norfolk), Kenninghall near Norwich was the grander and more modern house – Norfolk had been spending heavily to create a house to rival Hampton Court. It was at Kenninghall not at Norfolk that Mary is known to have celebrated masses with her family.