period: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is the story of Queen Elizabeth I (Bette Davis) and the Earl of Essex as told by Hollywood: it ends badly for him.

Bette Davis, at age 30 playing a 68-year-old Elizabeth, was brilliant while Errol Flynn wandered around aimlessly with a vaguely puzzled expression looking for a swash to buckle.

The makeup

Perc Westmore was the makeup artist.

Apparently Bette Davis told Perc Westmore and the costume designer: ‘Make me up horribly, and dress me outlandishly – I don’t care, so long as you get the essence of the original’.

Westmore shaved back her hairline by three inches; shaved her eyebrows and replaced them by thinly penciled lines; and made her up so that her lips seemed thinner and drew pouches under her eyes. A pasty white Elizabethan ‘beauty’ makeup finished the transformation.

Strangely, she looked far more like images of the older Queen Elizabeth than she did when she played her again some twenty-five years later in The Virgin Queen (1955) when her real age much more closely matched that of the Elizabeth she was portraying.