Insomniac Theatre: “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”

10 Jun

So I said I had a bunch of movies on Jeremy the TiVo — oh, shit, I seriously almost typed Jeremy Lin, thanks, SNL repeat that I have to tape now because it’s the Maya Rudolph repeat, and I need to rewatch the skit where Hader, Wiig, and Rudolph can’t get through the scene because they’re laughing too damn hard.  I’m certainly not enjoying this stupid Jeremy Lin sketch again.

Anyway.  I have about ten films on the TiVo, and I really need to watch some of these before I — OW WHAT THE FUCK IS —

Okay, apparently?  The love seat I’m sitting on had a freaking FEATHER poking out of the cushion, STEM FIRST.  I thought I was sitting on a needle.  Jesus Christ, that fucking hurt.


I think I taped this a few months ago, pre-Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, but couldn’t get through it.  Well, I’m going to try it once more, Insomniac Theatre-style.  The imdb. describes it thusly:

A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.

Oo, love/hate relationship?  PLEASE LET THERE BE FACE-SLAPPING.  EVERYTHING is better with face-slapping.

Ooh, this version has an introduction by Robert Osbourne!  And according to Robert Osbourne, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes fighting about what to call the movie, because everyone wanted to have top billing or make their role sound more important than it really was, and — wait, Vincent Price is in this?!  Sweet!

London, 1596.  After defeating the Spanish forces at Cadiz, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, marches in triumph toward Whitehall Palace where Queen Elizabeth awaits him.

Yeah, I’ll bet she does.  Jeez, the set looks like they turned It’s A Small World into late Renaissance-England.  The colors are super-bright and there are tons of flags and also, music playing.  Up on some balcony, a bunch of ladies-in-waiting are tittering about Essex’s victory in Cadiz, and one lady badmouths the Queen out of her earshot, and another lady shushes her and pretty much insinuates that the Queen is going to behead her for talking smack.  My only question is, is the smack-talking Lady in Waiting played by Olivia De Havilland?  Because if it is, I’m not sure I know what to do – Miss Melly don’t have a mean bone in her body!

Some dude-in-waiting is having a conversation with Queen Elizabeth as she dresses to receive Essex.  (Yeah, she does.)  Throughout the entire conversation, the Queen is behind a screen and we can’t see her face.  As much as I love Bette Davis and her face, how cool would that movie be?  Only seeing a character from the back or in shadow?  Has that ever been done before?  Because I am unsure.

What I am sure of is that Bette Davis wears Queen Elizabeth’s renowned ugliness well.  Holy Hannah, that’s a high forehead and her eyes are … weird, to say the least.

Elizabeth is pissed at Essex because she thinks he acted in Cadiz on his own behalf and not on the behalf of England.  In spite, she promotes Raleigh to commander of the Navy, and some other dude she promotes to something else.  Pissed, Essex tries to hightail it out of the Great Hall or whatever, but Elizabeth calls him back and – FACE-SLAP!  SHE JUST FACE-SLAPPED ESSEX!  WHAT HAVE I BEEN SAYING ABOUT FACE-SLAPPING AND HOW AWESOME IT IS!


So Elizabeth is writing letters or to-do-lists or, possibly, to-behead lists (I wasn’t completely paying attention — sorry), and there’s this Random … I was going to call him a courtier, but he’s not courting Elizabeth.  Let’s call him … Random Jackass, because he’s trying to jackass Essex out of Elizabeth’s favor in order to promote himself.  Oh, right, because Elizabeth isn’t really pissed at Essex; she admits that she was too harsh on him.  Dearest Bette, you know I adore you and all of your roles, but — you FACE SLAPPED HIM IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE COURT.  Of course he’s pissed!

Ha!  Elizabeth just called the Random Jackass a slimy toad!  SLAP HIM YOUR MAJESTY RULE HIM WITH YOUR IRON PALM

Elizabeth goes to sit in one of her thrones, and briefly soliloquizes that she’s not sure who she hates more: Essex for making her love him, or herself for needing him.  Uh, little from Column A, little from Column B, perhaps?

Wanstead — Essex’s ancestral home, northeast of London.

Wanstead?  That’s — that’s a place?  I’m … not sure how that sounds.

Okay, I have just been distracted by a) an email from a former co-worker that I, sadly, can’t answer right now, and b) the next movie Sarah’s “forcing” me to watch (no arm-twisting this time; with a synopsis like that, I have to watch it!).  So, when I last looked at the screen, Essex was talking to a friend about how much he loves to hate Elizabeth too.  Or something.  Whatever.  NEEDS MORE FACE-SLAPPING.

And scene.  Glad I paid attention to that.

Someone’s riding their steed off to London like crazy, and Olivia de Havilland is playing chess with Queen Elizabeth.  This is the fastest game of chess I’ve ever seen.  What is this, speed chess?  DOES THE BOARD BLOW UP IF THEY SLOW THE GAME DOWN?  Olivia taunts that she put the Queen into check, and Queen Elizabeth retaliates by FLIPPING THE TABLE or, at least, sweeping all the pieces off the table, but how awesome would this movie be if there was not only face-slapping, but also flipping of tables?


Oh god, is there going to be singing?  Oh god, there’ssinging.  Apparently Olivia de Havilland is using the magical power of song to be bitchy to the Queen about Essex.  Wow, Miss Melly is being a bitch in this movie!  I … seriously, has Olivia de Havilland ever played a bad person?  I do not know what to do with her!

Apparently the song is about an older woman loving a younger man.  I assume this is the case because Elizabeth examines her reflection and does the same thing Margo Channing does when she suspects Eve of stealing Bill from her – looks at her eyes and the crow’s feet and hates men for looking young.  AND THEN SHE SMASHES HER MIRROR.  YES!  SMASHING OF THINGS!

Elizabeth calls Penelope a wench and a spoiled hussy!  YES.  She goes completely batshit insane and breaks ALL THE MIRRORS in her chambers!  Holy shit this movie is fantastic!

Elizabeth gives Miss Margaret some love advice, but I wasn’t really listening.  Then she calls for Francis Bacon, whom she calls Master Bacon, and hi, can I have some Master Bacon?  I love Master Bacon.  I’m a Master Baconator.  Seriously, bacon’s the best thing in the world.  There are a lot of things I would die for; my right to eat bacon is one of them.  Even if I were raised Jewish, I’d be the worst Jew in the world because my love for bacon resides deep in my bones.  I have a bone for bacon.


SO ANYWAY Elizabeth is asking Sir Francis Bacon (not bacon the food) how she can get Essex back to the palace without seeming weak, when a random person — oh, it’s the guy riding the steed! — breaks into the room and faints.  When he revives, he tells Bacon and Elizabeth that a war has broken out in Ireland.  Bacon and Elizabeth use the war as the PERFET EXCUSE to get Essex back to London without having to lie!  Instead, they’re going to create some stupid role and title to get him back so he can monitor the troops in Ireland from there in London, and oh whatever.  But also, sadly, the person that Mistress Margaret loved is now dead. 


Wait, I have to take a picture of this:

SERIOUSLY.  WHAT IS THAT?!  I think — though I could be wrong? — that that is a falcon with a hat.  A FALCON.  With a HAT.  (Sidenote: Falcon With a Hat would be an excellent name for a band, yes?)

Oh my God, Essex and his peeps are falconing!  He’s got a falcon of his own with a random feather on its head!  He’s falconing with Master Bacon, and I’m sorry, but that is a That’s What She Said.  Anyway, Queen Elizabeth has dressed Sir Walter Raleigh up in a silver suit of armor, and Vincent Price is Sir Walter Raleigh so that makes it even more creepy, but anyway, Elizabeth is using Raleigh to make Essex jealous, and he returns to the palace in London, as we knew he would.

Raleigh is wearing this ridiculous suit of armor, and apparently, to piss him off, and to exude his own manliness or whatever, Essex commissioned an entire army’s worth of silver armor?  WHAT?  This movie, all of a sudden, has a very Project Runway-esque vibe to it.  I half expected Essex to go all Michael Kors on me and talk about the distracting yellow feathered headdress that tops Raleigh’s helmet.  (And again, That’s What She Said.)

Uh oh, it looks like Penelope/Olivia de Havilland is trying to steal Essex away from the Queen for herself.  I mean, I know why this is happening — de Havilland and Flynn had played lovers / were lovers? multiple times, including in the famed Robin Hood movie that made Errol Flynn famous. 

OMIGOD THIS SCENE So Penelope kisses Essex briefly — the briefest of brief pecks — JUST as Elizabeth walks in.  Penelope quickly runs out of the room to give her queen privacy, and Elizabeth walks over to a table and starts munching on, what is that, a pretzel?  Did they have pretzels back then?  WHATEVER.  Anyway, Elizabeth accuses Essex of loving Penelope, and Essex dismisses Penelope by calling her a child.

DUDES.  FIRST of all, Elizabeth has the same gleam in her eye that Margo Channing had in her eye when she asked Eve if she wanted a milkshake.  Plus, the walking around the room eating bon-bons.  PLUS Essex dismissing Eve Penelope by calling her a child.  “STOP CALLING HER A KID.”  OMIGOD THIS SCENE.

… But, unlike that classic fight scene, the two end up having a great big laugh over Raleigh’s silver armor.  They appear to be all hunky-dory, but oh wait a sec, they’re fighting again.  Nope, wait, the fight’s over, and now they’re embracing again.  Hey, yo-yos, cut it out: pick a side and commit!  Do you love each other, or do you hate each other?  FIGURE IT OUT, I’m getting BORED.

Nope, now she’s trying to get him to love another woman?  WHY?  Elizabeth, you’re just going to get mad and ask him to love you again.  What is with this movie?  So much awesome: face-slapping, mirror-shattering,All About Eve-homaging, but then I’m also so very, very confused.

AND NOW SHE’S TOSSING PLAYING CARDS IN ESSEX’S FACE?!  YES?  And accusing him of conspiring to depose her?  And now they’re laughing again?  THIS MOVIE IS DAMNED SCHIZOPHRENIC.

There’s a war council, and Essex is sent to Ireland to fight.  Elizabeth and Essex are both conflicted, but Essex eventually (after ten minutes of talking about it) goes off to Ireland.  Elizabeth gives him one of her rings as a favor to remember her by.

Ireland — For Essex and his army, a nightmare of suffering, disease and death.  Apparently abandoned by their Queen, the English forces push hopelessly on in pursuit of an elusive enemy.

Abandoned?  Elizabeth — you’re not supposed to abandon your lover when he’s at war! 

Oh shit, I’m falling asleep.  Apparently Essex gets a letter from the Queen, in which she tells him he needs to give himself up and return to London.  He goes off the paranoid wagon and starts wondering if the Queen is in league with the Irish enemy.  Meanwhile, back at the London ranch, the Queen is ranting and raving about something and the letters they write to and from each other are statistically sappy and about nothing I’d want read at my wedding.  Elizabeth dismisses the dude who was here so she can go mope about missing Essex. I may be wrong about that whole last paragraph, by the way.  Because yeah, I’m  falling asleep.

The English army is surrounded — trapped, to quote the Irish general, and now I’m just sad nobody said “It’s a trap!!”  Surely there’s an Admiral Akbar in the English army?

Confession time!: I totally fell asleep.  The last two paragraphs?  I’m not sure if they even match the plot of the movie.  I am now writing the remainder of this entry at 11 a.m. the following morning, refreshed after an eight-hour nap.  I even rewound back to the Ireland leadline.

Apparently, the Queen has forgotten the English army and they are lacking supplies and morale.  Essex is pissed because the Queen is ignoring his requests for more troops, food, and arms.  I think he’s actually pissed because the Queen isn’t including any love letters in her missives.  When the latest tells him to return to London, he gets super-pissed and decides to do one final battle with Ireland.

Meanwhile, what I missed last night — Vincent Price and his silver armor manipulated Lady Miss Melanie and her love for Essex to keep letters to Essex from getting to the Queen and vice versa.  Why Vincent Price, you shrewd bastard!

Sir Francis Master Bacon knows why the letters aren’t getting to where they need to go, and he’s telling the Queen in an oblique way so as to avoid being beheaded.  Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth is acting like a college freshman.  “Oh, he wrote you but didn’t write to me?  Why doesn’t he respond to my letters when I tell him I love him?  Is he dead?  But if he was dead, someone would have –”

Uh, oh shit.  I just had a stunning realization about something going in my own life.  Wow.  Okay, moving on. 

Although now that I think about it, I think my thing is more that I communicate via text (emails, text messages), and the other person communicates verbally, and I’m sorry, Troy, but even though I was born in the 80s, I don’t really use my phone as a phone.  Much.

Anyway, back to the movie – the Queen dismisses Sir Francis Master Bacon, and takes a nap.  Then we are thrust onto the Irish battlefield, and there’s cannons and bugles and dust and it kind of looks like the same set where Dorothy and her friends were picked up by the Flying Monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.  England calls a cease-fire with Ireland.

General Tyrone of Ireland calls to Essex and tells him that, unless England surrenders, then Ireland’s going to cut off England’s supplies and arms.  I’m very pleased – that is the best cease-fire I’ve ever seen.  Tyrone pretty much convinces Essex of what he already knew: that he needs to surrender in order to live to fight another day.  He ceases fire, and he and his army returns to England to march on the Queen. 

After a pompous walk to her throne, Elizabeth asks somebody about the latest play that Shakespeare wrote, about the deposement of a king, and she mocks that her people are going to storm on the castle based on what they see in “the theatre.”  First off, yay more homages to All About Eve!  But mostly, which play is it?  It must be MacBeth.  Hooray, I love MacBeth!

Hoo boy, Essex and Elizabeth just realized that they never received each other’s letters.  Elizabeth is PISSED.  I hope there’s more face-slapping.

Oh, Jesus, Elizabeth’s sitting in her throne and Essex is lounging on the floor with his head in her lap.  Shouldn’t that seating arrangement be reversed?  I mean, I know she’s the Queen, but I don’t usually see men supplicant to women in movies.  While I like the idea, I’m not sure I like seeing a powerful man subverting himself for a woman.  I don’t know; I am a huge fan of powerful men and women maintaining their power while in a relationship, not having one party lose some power to maintain the relationship.  *sigh*  This type of thinking is too heavy for Insomniac Theatre.  It’s too heavy for The Morning After Insomniac Theatre.

Elizabeth: Take me, my life, my world, my present and future in your hands.  Stand behind my throne, and together we shall build up England, to make the old world one.
Alaina: Uh, that’s what she said?

Oh good, Essex wants to be king.  So he wants to maintain his power and be equal with Elizabeth.  Yay, power equality!  Oh, Essex convinces Elizabeth to share her role and power with him without making him king, and he disbands his army.  Huh.  Poor lovestruck kid.  Hm.  Because with her tone of voice and her posture, it appears that Elizabeth is leading him on, and she’s going to send him to the Tower of London.  Seriously, she had the same look in her eye she had before warning her party that it was going to be a bumpy night.

Ha I was right!  She sends Essex off to the Tower.  Dude, seriously – you can’t love a Queen and ask for equal power unless you are married to the woman before she is made Queen.  I repeat: poor lovestruck kid.

Kittens!  There are kittens … playing near the executioner’s grindstone?!  THAT’S HORRIBLE. 

Meanwhile, Lady Miss Melanie is pleading for Essex’s life.  Miss Melly is telling the Queen that he loved her, not Melanie, and that she was jealous of the Queen because of Essex’s love.  The Queen is not giving pardon whatsoever.  And y’know, I’m okay with that decision.  Because as Queen, she must retain her power over possible usurpers. 

Oh, maybe she is relenting a little bit.  Dangit, Elizabeth!  Rule with your iron palm, not your heart!  She calls him back from the Tower, and they have an argument about if they love each other.  Good Lord, I am bored.  QUICK NEEDS MORE FACE-SLAPPING

Essex goes off to his execution, not willing to submit to Elizabeth’s demands.  Good on you, Essex.  He is brought down through this SECRET TRAP DOOR to go to his execution, and he’s wearing a puffy shirt!  Y’know, I get why Seinfeld hated his puffy shirt, but can I tell ya, Errol Flynn makes it look damn awesome.  He kisses the ring Elizabeth gave him, then says he’s ready.

And then the movie ends!  There was entirely too little face-slapping.  There could have been way more in the last half.

Oh, what does Robert Osbourne have to say at the end?  Eh, nothing I didn’t read in the trivia section on imdb yesterday.

Grade for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex: Meh.

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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Insomniac Theatre


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