One face dominates the sixteenth century, at least for the English-speaking moviegoer: Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, is a recurrent favourite and has been played by: Sarah Churchill, Bette Davis (twice), Glenda Jackson (TV and movie), Flora Robson (three times), Cate Blanchett (twice) and Jean Simmons among others.
Recent movies and mini-series have featured Anne-Marie Duff, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave in the role. In the late 1990s Playbill announced that Richard Eyre was about to start filming Schiller’s Mary Stuart with Meryl Streep in the title role and Glenn Close as Elizabeth: it never happened. Elizabeth would also have featured in the Bryce Dallas Howard Mary, Queen of Scots, movie if that had got off the ground.
The look of the character is somewhat constrained by surviving portraits; but these look almost bizarre to today’s eyes, and many screen Elizabeths have shied away from an appearance that might prevent audiences identifying with the character. In the UK, the aged Elizabeth was at one time an almost a standard makeup test for aspiring makeup artists. It’s easy to see why: the older queen involves a whole series of skills, ageing, bald-cap, wig, creating a likeness and the whole thing topped off with, what appears, to us at least, as an outlandish colour scheme.