The Virgin Queen (TV serial)

The Virgin Queen
Written by Paula Milne
Directed by Coky Giedroyc
Starring Anne-Marie Duff
Tom Hardy
Theme music composer Martin Phipps
Country of origin UK
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Paul Rutman
Running time 237 min
Original release
  • 13 November 2005 (2005-11-13) (USA)

  • 22 January 2006 (2006-01-22) (UK)

The Virgin Queen is a 2005 BBC and Power co-production, four-part miniseries based upon the life of Queen Elizabeth I, starring Anne-Marie Duff. As a drama, it focused heavily on Elizabeth's private life - particularly her relationship with Robert Dudley, and explored the politics of her reign in rather less depth.

It was originally intended to air first on the BBC in September 2005, but as the date would have coincided with the release of the Channel 4 two-part mini Elizabeth I (starring Helen Mirren), it was decided to delay the BBC release until January 2006, two months after the US opening in November 2005 on PBS' Masterpiece Theatre. Ewen Bremner appeared in both productions.

Despite being a biopic of Elizabeth's life and reign, the series presented its main character with particular interest in several themes, most notably the emotional impact of her mother's execution and her love for Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.

The drama played up the ambiguity of Elizabeth's virginity, featuring a scene where Elizabeth fantasizes about making love to Dudley. However, Anne-Marie Duff later stated that the director and scriptwriter explicitly told her to play the queen as a lifelong virgin.


Episode 1

The first episode depicts Elizabeth from her imprisonment in the Tower of London by the Queen, her sister Mary I, accused with plotting the Queen's demise, to her accession to the throne following Mary's death, and her coronation. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower, accused of participating in Thomas Wyatt's rebellion to overthrow Mary. The episode strongly hints Elizabeth's participation, though evidence of this remains highly conjectural. The episode also establishes Elizabeth's relationship with Robert Dudley, and they are shown to be greatly in love, despite Dudley being married. Elizabeth's frustration at her later house arrest at Woodstock Manor is emphasised to somewhat comic effect. She is shown being held at Woodstock from her release from the Tower until her sister's death from cancer, when in reality she was only held there a year, before being recalled to London so Mary could keep a closer eye on her. The episode also depicts the legend of Elizabeth being told she is Queen of England under an oak tree, depicted as being in Woodstock but which in reality is claimed to have occurred at Hatfield House, and her utterance of the quote "This is the work of the Lord, and it is marvellous in our eyes..."

Episode 2

The second episode shows Elizabeth from several months to a year after her coronation, establishing herself as Queen, to the emergence of Mary, Queen of Scots, as her political rival. The episode makes much of her clandestine romance with Robert Dudley, and her resistance to marriage. Elizabeth is shown to be struggling with the adjustment to being Queen, especially in regard to Dudley. A scene shows Elizabeth dreaming of making love with Dudley, but the plot of the series follows the opinion that she resisted these urges, and remained a virgin. The episode introduces or further establishes several key characters in the story of Elizabeth's reign, including William Cecil; Francis Walsingham; Katherine Ashley; Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (Elizabeth's cousin); and Lettice Knollys. It also depicts her courtship from Philip II of Spain (her sister's widower) and the Archduke Charles of Austria. It also shows Elizabeth's early dealings with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, including her plans for her to marry Dudley, as a means to secure a political union between England and Scotland, and the treason of Thomas Howard. The closing scene depicts the start of the relationship between Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys. Midway through the episode, Elizabeth's contraction of smallpox is dramatically depicted, following the depiction of the death of Dudley's wife, Amy Robsart. The circumstances of Amy's death remain ambiguous, though the episode shows her taking her own life, in a bid to curtail Dudley's ambitions to marry Elizabeth.

Episode 3

The third episode begins with Elizabeth's courtship with Francis, Duke of Anjou, and ends just following the destruction of the Spanish Armada. During her near death from smallpox in the previous episode, Elizabeth is shown wearing the ornate red wig or hairpiece she has become famous for. The episode depicts Elizabeth's courtship of Anjou as nothing more than politics, and a wish for an heir, and suggests that she harboured little real affection for him, though like many of her courtships, this remains ambiguous. The key point of character drama in this episode is Elizabeth's discovery of Robert Dudley's marriage to Lettice Knollys, upon which she is shown flying into a grief-fuelled rage. The illness Dudley suffered prior to his death is also depicted from fairly early on, though Elizabeth remains ignorant of his affliction. Great focus is also placed on Elizabeth's turmoil over the situation with Mary, Queen of Scots, who is executed towards the end of the episode, an act which Elizabeth is shown expressing great remorse in private. The impending invasion of the Spanish Armada is dealt with fairly rapidly, the primary scene concerning the Armada being Elizabeth's encampment at Tilbury, where she gives an invigorating speech. These scenes are intercut, and immediately followed with her grief and heartbreak over the death of Robert Dudley, and her brief seclusion during the celebrations over the Armada's defeat. The episode ends with her first encounter with Robert Devereux. The ending makes much of the theory that Devereux was actually the son of Robert Dudley by Lettice Knollys, instead of the result of her first marriage to Walter Devereux.

Episode 4

This episode shows Elizabeth in the twilight of her reign. Anne Marie Duff and Sienna Guillory are given ageing makup in this episode, accentuating their age in comparison to the previous episodes, marking them as enduring 'relics' of the past. The episode revolves mainly around Elizabeth's relationship with Robert Devereux as her court favourite, and the machinations for his advancement by his mother Lettice Knollys, the Queen's former handmaiden. The enmity between Elizabeth and Lettice is also emphasised, and the plot deviates from established history by showing that Elizabeth eventually did meet with Lettice before her death, albeit briefly and without exchanging words. Devereux is held as a pawn between the two women, his love for Elizabeth on one side, his devotion to his mother on the other, the pressure of which causes him great turmoil, bordering on mental instability, culminating in his attempt at rebellion towards the end of the episode. One haunting scene in the episode shows Devereux walking in on a half-dressed Elizabeth, and his shock when he sees the Queen as decrepit and old, without her wig or make up. Elizabeth is the one remaining relic of the England she once knew, most of her friends and trusted advisors having been replaced by the next generation. The emphasis on Devereux takes away somewhat from the political problems Elizabeth was facing at the time, such as with Spain, France and Ireland, as well as significant problems in England itself with high taxes and the failure of the crops, though these events are made frequent reference to. The episode concludes with Robert Devereux's execution and Elizabeth's demise, including her encroaching senility and dementia with age, and her depression over Devereux's death. In these scenes, she is shown delivering her famous Golden Speech to Parliament. Her death is depicted in a more dramatic fashion than in reality, with her refusing to lie down in fear that she would not stand again. Elizabeth is also reminiscing of her life; walking through a crowd of people when her father was on the throne with someone saying "bastard", being informed that her sister Mary is dead, her beloved friend and chief-lady of the bedchamber Kat Ashley smiling at her, William Cecil, her one true love Robert Dudley smiling at her and her fateful exclamation of "I will have one mistress here, and no master! Do you hear me?!" Finally, she is drawn from her reminiscing when she apparently suffers a stroke and collapses, with her advisers, courtiers and ladies-in-waiting rushing to assist as she dies. The episode ends with William Cecil's son, Robert, preparing for the accession of Elizabeth's successor, James I. He is seen discovering that Elizabeth added a clasp to the ring worn by the sovereign; opening it, he discovers that a portrait has been hidden. The episode ends with Robert speaking "It is the whore Anne Boleyn; her mother."[1]

Historical accuracy

Described by its producers as "... [a] regal portrait ... steeped in historical accuracy", the series followed the general flow of history, but deviated from historical truth in numerous ways, such as:

Cast and credits


Role Portrayed by Appears in episodes
Elizabeth I Anne-Marie Duff 1, 2, 3, 4
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester Tom Hardy 1, 2, 3
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex Hans Matheson 3, 4
Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex Dexter Fletcher 1, 2, 3
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk Kevin McKidd 1, 2
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley Ian Hart 1, 2, 3, 4
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury Daniel Evans 3, 4
Mary I Joanne Whalley 1
Lettice Knollys Sienna Guillory 1, 2, 3, 4
Sir Francis Walsingham Ben Daniels 2, 3
Lord Chancellor Gardiner Robert Pugh 1
Amy, Lady Dudley Emilia Fox 2
Philip II of Spain Stanley Townsend 1
Kat Ashley Tara Fitzgerald 1, 2, 3
Sir James Melville Ewen Bremner 2
Mary, Queen of Scots Charlotte Winner 3
Sir Walter Raleigh Derek Riddell 3, 4
Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire Sebastian Armesto 4
Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans Neil Stuke 4
Francis, Duke of Anjou Matthias Girbig 3
Jean de Simier Enzo Cilenti 3
Reginald Pole Michael Feast 1
John Brydges Tony Guilfoyle 4
Henry Bedingfeld Pearce Quigley 1
Cecily Siobhan Hewlett 4
Sir Horace Alsop Karl Theobald 4
Dentist Geoff Bell 4
Earl of Southampton Shaun Evans 4
Agnes Joanna Griffiths 4
Thomas Phelippes Vincent Franklin 3
Gilbert Gifford Stephen Walters 3
Christopher Hatton Jason Watkins 1, 2, 3
John Dee Alan Williams 1
Thomas Wyatt the Younger Bryan Dick 1

Production credits

Filming locations


Original score was composed by Martin Phipps featuring vocals by the Mediæval Bæbes and the London Bulgarian Choir. The score won an Ivor Novello Award for "Best Television soundtrack". The Lyrics on the track played during the opening sequence were derived from a poem written by Elizabeth I. The soundtrack is available on CD.

See also


  1. This is the correct line, as shown by the completed version of the film, of which the last part is seen here:
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