Review: Becoming Elizabeth – Series

Season 1 of Becoming Elizabeth has ended and, whilst it did not leave us with a complete cliffhanger, the ground has clearly been laid for a season 2. At the time of writing this, there does not seem to be any concrete confirmation of a second season but fingers crossed!

I have been writing a series of blog posts looking at questions arising from the series but now it is time for a short review of the series – the good and the bad… (spoilers ahead!)

The Good

  • The fact the series was made! The mid-Tudor period (reigns of Edward VI and Mary) is rarely adapted for books/film/TV, especially in comparison with the amount of attention given to Henry VIII and his wives. However, it is a period filled with drama and intrigue, and it is great to see it getting more attention.
  • The cast. Generally, the casting has been excellent (more later on my one quibble with the cast). Personally, I don’t mind too much if actors don’t look exactly like the historic figure – as long as their performance is good – but I actually think they did a good job in capturing the sense of how the main characters look. And the cast produced some really strong performances – Romola Garai as Mary Tudor, Oliver Zetterström as Edward VI, Bella Ramsay as Lady Jane Grey, and John Heffernan as Edward Seymour were particular standouts.
  • The Tudor sibilings. I absolutely adored the protrayal of the relationships between the three Tudor siblings – Edward, Mary and Elizabeth – as they adjust to their new lives. Edward, the youngest child loved by his sisters but now with royal authority over them and the country. Mary, the royal heir but also a Catholic isolated in her brother’s increasingly Protestant kingdom. And Elizabeth, the younger sister trying to find her feet in a world of political intrigues and torn between her two siblings.
  • The little details. Whilst the show is not 100% accurate (what historical drama ever is?), there were plenty of gems for fans of the Tudor period. Everything from little touches such as attendants sleeping on the floors in their lord/lady’s room to the costumes, mainly of which were clearly recognisable from surviving portraits.

The Bad

  • The premise/title. Part way through the series, I began to feel that it couldn’t quite decide what it was trying to be! It was sold as the story of Elizabeth becoming the figure that we are familiar with from history, with an emphasis on her relationship with Sir Thomas Seymour. However, it was far more than that. This was a far broader look at the events of the 1540s, the political intrigues of the royal court during Edward’s minority, and the leading figures of the time. Indeed, a lot of viewers (myself included) felt that Romola Garai was the scene stealer, and that her story was as interesting as Elizabeth’s. All in all, I think that the title and press release blurbs seriously undersold the series. This uncertainty about the premise also led to my next problem…
  • The pacing/chronology. The focus on Elizabeth on Thomas Seymour whilst also trying to cover the broader picture, led to uneven pacing. Considerable time was spent on exploring Elizabeth and Thomas in the first half of the series, but then the rebellions of 1549 were rushed through and compressed, and there was a rapid jump to Edward’s first illness. In my opinion, it either needed to be a shorter mini series about Thomas and Elizabeth, or their relationship should have been a smaller part of a drama about the Tudor court.
  • Alicia von Rittberg as Elizabeth. I want to begin by saying that this not a criticism of von Rittberg’s performance which I enjoyed. However, she looks closer to her real age (28) than Elizabeth’s age (14). I think that this affected how people perceived her relationship with Seymour, and how harshly they judged the character’s actions and (at times) poor decision making. If Elizabeth had been played by an actress closer in age to Bella Ramsay, I think her storylines would have been stronger and less overshadowed by Romola Garai.

All in all, whilst there is lot to nitpick over in terms of historical accuracy, this was a highly enjoyable series that captured the essence of the period. It was much better than I had feared on the basis of other Starz series (ie Spanish Princess and Reign) and I will certainly be watching series 2 – if it gets greenlit!

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