The Virgin Queen is a British television drama mini-series written by Paula Milne and directed by Coky Giedroyc and based upon the life of Queen Elizabeth I, focusing heavily on her private life - particularly her relationship with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
The mini-series originally aired in the UK on the BBC from 13 November, 2005 to 22 January, 2006. There are four hour-long episodes in the series.
The Virgin Queen premiered in South Africa on SABC3 on Wednesday 20 May 2009, at 21h00.
The Virgin Queen is an intimate account of Elizabeth I's rule.
The tale begins when Elizabeth is a teenage princess imprisoned in the Tower of London by her half-sister Queen Mary, charged with conspiracy and treason.
Scared but determined the young Elizabeth fights for her life and for what she believes, as the protestant daughter of Henry VIII, is rightfully hers - England's throne.
After Mary's death, Elizabeth plunges into her role as queen, discovering the harsh realities of ruling a country divided by faith and under threat from abroad.
Convinced of her feminine weakness, the all-male Privy Council clamors to advise their inexperienced queen. Yet, Elizabeth soon learns how to outwit her enemies and charm those who conspire to their own ends, showing all the strength and resolve of her father.
Under constant pressure to marry, the coquettish Elizabeth rejects a string of wealthy European suitors, openly preferring the burning affections of her childhood playmate, the athletic, handsome - and married - Robert Dudley.
But when Dudley's wife, Amy, is found dead, Elizabeth banishes Dudley, realising that the scandal surrounding them could rock the very stability of England.
Surrounded by intrigue, conspiracy, torture and murder, Elizabeth struggles to balance her personal feelings with the rigors of the monarchy.
The increasing clamour from her court and country to secure the throne transform the young queen into a liberated woman increasingly adamant that she will not be forced into a political marriage.
The Virgin Queen explores the fears, concerns, distastes and loves of the woman behind the crown, her duty as a monarch always taking precedence over her personal cravings.
In Elizabeth's own immortal words: "I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king."
Vulnerable and imperious, passionate and unreachable, from teenage princess to accomplished queen, forever torn between duty and personal longing, the reign of Elizabeth I is exposed in lavish and spectacular style.
Anne-Marie Duff stars as the enigmatic 'Virgin Queen'. Her femininity baffled and threatened the male order of Renaissance England for more than 40 years. The role is as challenging and complex as anything history offers.
Paula Milne's script about the long and eventful life of England's iconic Queen was filmed against a backdrop of some of Great Britain's most beautiful houses and landscapes.
The Virgin Queen explores the full sweep of Elizabeth's life: from her days of fear as a potential victim of her sister's terror, through her great love affair with Robert Dudley, into her years of triumph over the Spanish Armada, and finally her old age and her last, enigmatic relationship with her young protégé, the Earl of Essex.
The cast also includes Joanne Whalley, Dexter Fletcher, Tara Fitzgerald, Sienna Guillory, Tom Hardy, Ian Hart, Robert Pugh, Kevin McKidd, Hans Matheson, Emilia Fox, Ben Daniels, Ewen Bremner and Bryan Dick.
The first episode of this classic four-part drama opens with Mary I and King Philip of Spain on the English throne and Elizabeth fighting for her life.
In an age of Catholic extremism, Elizabeth is taken to the Tower of London, accused of plotting to assassinate “Bloody” Mary as part of a Protestant coup.
Elizabeth continues to protest her innocence but the queen is determined to be rid of her rival half-sister – whether by death or exile.
As the country is ripped apart by religious persecution, Elizabeth’s plight worsens with the news that Mary is pregnant. With the promise of an heir, Mary’s throne seems secure and Elizabeth, cut off from her few remaining allies, realises her own days are now numbered.
The young Queen Elizabeth is adored up and down the country, but she soon finds herself at odds with her own court. Her closest advisors want her to make a political marriage to a foreign prince that will ensure England’s stability across Europe.
But Elizabeth is reluctant to share the throne and refuses to commit, continuing instead to flirt with the distrusted and ambitious Sir Robert Dudley.
Then tragedy strikes and Elizabeth must make a choice. Should she surrender to the will of the council and give up her power, or risk her own monarchy by pushing ahead with a deeply unpopular marriage to Dudley?
Now in her forties, Elizabeth makes one final fling for marriage – this time to the French Duke of Anjou, who is less than half her age.
Meanwhile, Mary Queen of Scots – currently held captive in England – appears to be building allies across Catholic Europe. But Elizabeth’s spymaster Francis Walsingham needs proof.
After years of surveillance, he ensnares Mary in an elaborate sting to ensure she can be charged with plotting to assassinate the Queen. The trial sparks an international crisis.
Elizabeth’s advisors urge her to sign the death warrant, but she is all too aware of the terrible consequences. If Mary is executed, the Spanish are ready to exact bloody revenge by unleashing a massive Armada against England.
The year is 1596. Since Robert Dudley’s death, his step-son the Earl of Essex has become the ageing Elizabeth’s favourite. Charismatic and volatile, Essex is a national legend.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, is largely ignored by the public, her finest days forgotten. As a new generation of power-hungry politicians fight for influence at court, she is haunted by memories – and turns increasingly to Essex for friendship.
When her oldest ally Lord Burghley falls ill, Elizabeth’s judgement starts to desert her. She allows Essex to pursue an unnecessary war overseas.
It is the first step on a trail that can only lead to tragedy.