Just watched The Virgin Queen, a 2005 Beeb mini series starring Anne Marie Duff. It was pretty reasonable viewing, and was certainly much better than a great deal of the Elizabethan gear that's been on film and telly.
Not that there's much point comparing The Virgin Queen with something like Young Bess. You need to compare a granny smith with a golden delicious. Comparing The Virgin Queen with Young Bess is more like comparing a granny smith with Gwanny, Tweety Pie's sometime owner. One is a British mini series, the other is an MGM 50s frock fest.
Best bet would be to compare it with HBO's Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren, which was also made in 2005 and was recently on someone's ABC.
First off, I'd actually heard of Elizabeth I. The ABC gave it a shed load of publicity, whereas I discovered The Virgin Queen about five minutes before it started last Tuesday on Foxtel.
Second, Elizabeth I was rubbish. Her Majesty Mirren strolled the role, doing what was expected of her and rock all more, while Anne Marie Duff, someone I'd never previously heard of, invested the role with real character. It probably helped, too, that they grubbied her up. Scabby legs and face, lank hair, green-brown tombstone teeth; you could almost smell her.
Third, the main support character in both shows was the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. In The Virgin Queen he was played by Tom Hardy, while in Elizabeth I it was Jeremy Irons. Hardy wins hands down with his measured, slightly cheeky performance. Irons, on the other hand, must have thought he was in a pirate movie, poncing around like Geoffrey Rush at full schtick.
Fourth, and too often neglected, The Virgin Queen support cast was leagues clear of the one in Elizabeth I. You actually realised there were other actors in The Virgin Queen, most notably Ian Hart as William Cecil, whereas they may as well have been drawn into Elizabeth I like its clunky backdrop. I'm not saying The Virgin Queen was a paragon of set decoration, but it was much better than Elizabeth I which reminded me of Dr Who circa 1979.
Then again, maybe I could compare it with Aussie Cate's Elizabeth, but then I'd have to put up with you going "she should have won the Oscar" or some such rot. Yeah, it was ok, but naaa. (Aussie Cate redoes Bess in The Golden Age.)
Or a summer's day...
I'm a big wrap for HBO, but maybe they should stick to American shows and leave the British to the British. The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire are three of the best television shows that have ever been made, but the two HBO co-productions I've seen, Elizabeth I and Rome are duds.
Nope, if you need your fill of Elizabethan historical drama, forget Elizabeth I and Elizabeth, and instead check out The Virgin Queen and Elizabeth R, the series from the 1970s.