Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Costumes: Elizabeth – The Virgin Queen, a School paper

I am in no mood to write today, for personal reasons, but I will still leave you with somthing to read. This is a paper I wrote for my Fashion Phenomena class, which I took in Fall of 2008.

Here were the instructions for the paper:

Movie report

Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998) OR Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Both directed by
Shekhar Kapur, and with Cate Blanchet as Queen Elizabeth.

After seeing one of the above movies, please do the following :

a) Give a short summary of the plot – half a page maximum.
b) Choose 3 different costumes (garment) in the movie, belonging to a minimum
of 2 different characters (they can’t all be Elizabeth!) include a picture from
the movie, and give a complete description, using the appropriate terminology
c) From another source, and for each costume you have chosen, you must find
or draw an historically accurate illustration depicting this type of garment, give
a complete description using the appropriate terminology, and comment on the
accuracy of costume in movie.
d) please make sure to include references for all your written and photo sources.

I choose to do my report on Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen as I own the DVD. So here is what I wrote.

The Movie

Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998)

Set in 16th century England, this movie tells of the young Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne and her early years as Queen.

The movie begins in 1554, when Mary is still queen of England. She is believed to be pregnant and is fighting Protestants as best she can by burning some at the stake. In the political world, whispers speak of a movement to replace the Queen with her half-sister, Elizabeth. Then 21 years old, the young Elizabeth is arrested on suspicion of treason and taken to the Tower of London to be interrogated. Her sister Mary, then Queen of England believes that her sister is planning to take her place as Queen. In fact, all the young Elizabeth seems to care about is dancing and enjoying her country life with her ladies in waiting and her lover, Sir Robert Dudley. One night, she is taken to a very ill Mary who wishes her sister’s promise that if she becomes Queen, she will uphold the Catholic faith, but Elizabeth can only promise to do as her conscience dictates.

Mary will let Elizabeth live, but under house arrest at Hatfield house, where she will learn of the Queen’s death to a cancerous tumour in her uterus. Eleven days later, Elizabeth is crowned Queen of England.

In her early years as Queen, Elizabeth rules more from the heart than from the head. She is unsure and makes mistakes. She declares war to Mary of Guise, Queen Consort of James V of Scotland, mother of the future Mary, Queen of Scots and Regent of the country. Her advisers are also pushing for her to marry so that she produces an heir. To content them, she agrees to have the Duc d’Anjou visit her in England to court her, but her heart still belongs to Dudley. Lord Robert even asks for her hand, but she later learns that he is already married and is so saddened by the news, she banishes him from her private presence. Meanwhile, D’Anjou keeps pushing her for a response. One night, as he does not show up for dinner, she visits him in his apartments where she finds him wearing a dress. Her refusal comes soon after.

All these trials and tribulations make Elizabeth tougher and she slowly transforms into a ruthless ruler. With her new right-hand man Walshingham, she orders the execution of those she sees as a threat to her rule, including Mary of Guise whom Walshingham assassinates personally, stopping an assassination plot that began in Rome with the Pope’s benediction.

In the end, she looks upon a statue of the Virgin Mary and decides to become like her, a virgin and a ruler of men’s heart.

The next time we see her, she has become Queen Elizabeth the first, the virgin Queen, married to no man, but to England itself.

Elizabeth’s Coronation Dress

Cate Blanchet as Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998)

The costume designer for this movie, Alexandra Byrne, chose to make Elizabeth’s Coronation Dress as close to Elizabeth the First’s portrait of the event as possible. As such, Cate Blanchet (who portrays the young Elizabeth in the movie) is outfitted with a gold tone on tone jacquard gown patterned with English roses. The dress features the characteristic squared neck bodice and cartridge pleated skirt. She also wears double-layered cloak: the long cloak is of the same material as the gown and lined with ermine while the second layer is entirely made of ermine. The cloak is fastened with a gold coloured rope finished with tassels. She is also wearing a partlet and a double-layered neck ruff. In other scenes, we can see her smock, or shift, peaking at the cuffs of the dress, which are closely fitted with a series of 10 buttons, as well as the lace around the neckline of her undergarment once the partlet has been taken off. The shape of the skirt when she is standing also suggests that she is wearing a bumroll and a pleated petticoat. Her jewellery includes earrings, necklace and state chain. She also wears a crown and carries a sceptre and orb. Her hair is loose as it was the traditional hair-do for queens at their coronation.

Artist Unknown. “Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I of England”. 1600-1610 copy of a lost original of c. 1559.

The portrait of Elizabeth’s coronation is said to be a copy made in 1600 of the lost 1559 painting. The artist is unknown. The outfit is painted here was well copied by Alexandra Byrne. Still, there are a few differences. The bodice seems very pointed in the front and not at all squared, which can be attributed to the new fashion of the time this copy was made. The cuffs of the sleeves have both ruffs and ermine and no buttons. The cloak seams to be of only one layer, with a large ermine collar instead of the two layered one shown in the film. The jewellery painted features a lot more colour than the one in the movie, but that could e a trick of light. Lastly, the Queen wears no earrings in the painting.

Although buttoned down sleeves were more popular in the 14th century and double layered cloaks were mostly worn by men, one would have to say that this gown is, for the most part, historically accurate.

Elizabeth’s Queen Dress

Cate Blanchet as Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998)

Queen Elizabeth knew how to dress and she dressed to impress. She used fashion to express a sense of generosity and wealth (all the while keeping her actual spending relatively low by reusing parts of old gowns in new ones) for which her people compared her to a goddess. In the movie, once Elizabeth decides to become the Virgin Queen History has known, she literally transforms. She cuts her hair short and begins wearing wigs as well as the white lead base make-up so typical of her reign. Here she wears a silver-white silk satin damask French gown with an opened over skirt and shoulder rolls. Her bombasted sleeves are embroidered to match the forepart of her underskirt, while the coat sleeves are made to match the gown. She also wears a very wide closed ruff trimmed with lace. The conical shape of the dress when she walks up to her throne tells us she is wearing a Spanish farthingale with a bumroll and petticoat. The entire outfit is decorated with silver bows, pearls and glass cabochons. She wears numerous pearl necklaces and huge teardrop pearl earrings. Her hair is also decorated with pearls. Pearls were very popular in the 16th century.

George Gower. “The Armada Portrait”. The Tudor Place. C. 1588.

The dress worn in the movie was clearly based upon the one worn by the Queen in “The Armada Portrait”, a painting commissioned to commemorate the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada. Although there are many versions of this portrait, the one showed here is by George Gower. Although the colours are different (the movie’s was silver and white to convey a sense of purity and virginity), it is the same dress.

This makes the movie dress very historically accurate... for the 1580’s. But the movie presents the events that shaped the young Elizabeth. At the end of the movie, we are told that she reigned for another 40 years. As she died in 1603, the movie cannot end later than 1563. For the early 1560’s, it is highly inaccurate.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Joseph Fiennes as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen (1998)

Robert Dudley, as played by Joseph Fiennes, is presented as the Queen’s lover and a bit of a ladies’ man. Although the real Robert Dudley was also known this way, he would have never been caught dead in most of what we see his movie version wear. The first time we see Dudley, he arrives on a white horse (the real Dudley was after all the Queen’s Master of the Horse) like the proverbial “Prince Charming”, with one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting. He is wearing nether hose or breeches that seem made of leather, a belt, nether stocks, riding boots and gloves and a linen shirt highly decorated with drawn thread work, worn opened on his chest.

Artist Unknown. “Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”. Oil on panel. 110 x 80 cm. At Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection. c.1564.

In this 1564 portrait by an unknown artist, Robert Dudley wears light blue doublet with shoulder wings and skirting, decorated with gold trim and fastened down the front with gold buttons. He also wears breeches and a codpiece. His sleeves, breeches and codpiece match the doublet’s fabric and decoration. A ruff peaks out from the high neckline of the doublet’s standing collar, just as ruffs decorate both cuffs of the sleeves. His head is adorned with a black jewelled and feathered cap, his neck with a necklace, and on his waist, he sports a leather baldric that hold a pouch, a rapier and a dagger. Although we cannot see it, he is most likely wearing a shirt under his doublet, as well as some nether stocks and boots or shoes. Now there is an outfit fit for a gentleman.

It is not that the clothes worn by Robert Dudley in the film are not historically accurate; simply that he is missing a few pieces. No gentleman would go out without a doublet and a cap of some sort. It simply would not have been proper. The movie Dudley always seems to dress down for the occasion instead of dressing up as a man of his rank should.



ARNOLD, Janet. Patterns of Fashion – The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c.1560-1620. Macmillan Publisher Ltd, London, 1985, 128 pages.

MIKHAILA, Ninya and Jane MALCOLM-DAVIES. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing 16th-Century Dress. Costume & Fashion Press, Hollywood, 2006, 160 pages.


KAPUR, Shekhar, Elizabeth, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, UK, 1998, Colour, English, 124 min.


Elizabethan Costume: History and Technique, consulted on October 19, 2008.

Elizabeth (1998), The Internet Movie Database, consulted on October 19, 2008.

Elizabeth (film), Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, consulted on October 19, 2008.

The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes, consulted on October 19, 2008.

The Elizabethan Costuming Page, consulted on October 19, 2008.

The Tudors: Elizabeth - Portrait of a Queen, History on the Net, consulted on October 19, 2008.

There you have it. I got 100% for this paper you know. So I
hope you enjoyed my analysis, and hopefully tomorrow I'll feel better and I'll be writing something new instead.

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