The year is 1547, and the infamous King Henry VIII is dead. The throne is left to his young son Edward VI while his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth wait in the wing. Without their powerful father to look after their well-being, his children must navigate the tumultuous Tudor court with powerful men who desire to use them as mere pawns in their game to influence how England is ruled. Throw in some romantic drama and the ever-changing religious landscape with the clash between Protestants and Catholics. This is the premise of the latest Tudor drama on Starz, “Becoming Elizabeth,” which follows the titular Princess Elizabeth Tudor during the reign of the third Tudor king.
Before we begin, I want to provide a little context before I dive into this review. As many of you know, I am incredibly picky about Tudor dramas; shocker, I know. I will watch trailers for new dramas, but after Reign (which, after watching the show for five minutes, I had to turn it off because of the costume design), I have been highly wary about committing to sitting down each week to watch a new show about historical figures I know pretty well.
The story of Princess Elizabeth is what got me interested in studying history after reading The Royal Diaries book series, so when I heard about this series, I wanted to know more. When I first saw the trailer for “Becoming Elizabeth, ” I decided to take the plunge and watch the first episode, which turned into watching every episode every Sunday.
Now let’s get to my thoughts about the series “Becoming Elizabeth.” I will be discussing the plot points of this series, so if you have not watched this show before reading this review, I would highly recommend you do.
There are a few aspects that I want to touch on before we take a deeper dive into this series, which have to do with the settings, costumes, music, and other details that will delight Tudor nerds. The location of “Becoming Elizabeth” is spot on, immersing the audience in Tudor England, which includes using candles for lighting instead of torches (which was a thrilling addition). I congratulate the costume and make-up crew from this drama as they are the best replications of Tudor gowns and outfits I have ever seen in a Tudor drama. They used the Tudor portraits of the time to replicate specific dresses and jewelry used in the show (including the famous “B” necklace most associated with Anne Boleyn) was a lovely and thoughtful touch. The only exception was the lead women’s riding gowns in this series. I did not like that they rode astride and had pants under their skirts. Let them ride side saddle and wear the same dresses they do at court but in those brown and green tones.
The little touches like having servants sleeping in the rooms of the royalty/ nobility and the masques to show significant events were viewed at court were nice touches for Tudor nerds. I also appreciated the small nods in the dialogue to elements that those who know Tudor history would understand, like the Queen’s jewels and the foreshadowing of Edward VI’s dog. Finally, the music in this show was decent, but some soundtracks felt a tad too modern and took away from the whole escapism element you want in a historical drama.
Now, let’s get into the most critical points of this show: the acting, the actors, and the plot points.
The cast of “Becoming Elizabeth” is a plethora of talented actors and actresses who remarkably bring the treacherous Tudor court to life. The titular role of Princess Elizabeth was played by Alicia von Rittberg, who portrays the young woman’s naivety and eventual strength in love and court politics. Oliver Zetterstrom is the young King Edward VI who struggles to find his identity as a reformer king while navigating the drama of his court and Lord Protectors. Finally, we have Romola Garai, who revolutionized how Princess Mary Tudor was portrayed on television. Garai gives the audience a more sympathetic and vibrant woman trying to hold her family together while defiantly standing up for her Catholic faith in a Protestant court.
A story like this would not be complete without a group of star-studded actors and actresses to help the trio of Tudor heirs shine. We have the vivacious Catherine Parr, played by Jessica Rayne, and her fourth husband, the sly Thomas Seymour, played by Tom Cullen, Thomas’ brother, and Edward VI’s first Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is played by John Heffernan. We also have the Grey family, led by Henry Grey, played by Leo Bill, and the shy and studious Lady Jane Grey, played by Bella Ramsey. Finally, we have the Dudley family with the ambitious John Dudley, played by Jamie Parker, and the youthful Robert Dudley, played by Jamie Blackley. Along with the prominent families, we have Kat Ashley, the loyal servant to Princess Elizabeth, played by Alexandra Gilbreath, and the Spanish soldier Pedro who helps guide Princess Mary, played by Ekow Quartey. The interactions between this cast are so believable and passionately performed that it feels like you have been transported into the 16th century in the reign of King Edward VI.
We begin this series with the death of King Henry VIII. Prince Edward is now King Edward VI, and he and his sisters must learn to live without their infamous father. Mary goes to her own home while Elizabeth joins the household of Catherine Parr and her new husband (the man she truly loves), Thomas Seymour. While Mary and Edward VI argue vehemently over the matters of religion, Catholics vs. Protestants, Elizabeth navigates the unusual attention that Thomas Seymour is giving the young princess as she wonders if this is true love or something more sinister.
In addition to Princess Elizabeth, Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour welcome the daughter of Henry Grey, Lady Jane Grey, to their household. Elizabeth and Jane do not seem to get along very well, and it feels like the only ones that Elizabeth can turn to when times get rough are Kat Ashley and the caring Robert Dudley. Mary may seem alone, but Pedro, a man who was supposed to spy on the Catholic princess, becomes her friend and ally. Unfortunately for Edward, he is stuck between factions of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley as they fight to influence the young king and the direction he wants to take his kingdom. It was a time of rebellions, betrayals, executions, and moments behind closed doors that would forever shape these three Tudor heirs, especially Elizabeth Tudor.
While most of the storylines are engaging, and I found them rather enjoyable, one got under my skin: the intimate relationship between Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. Now I know it was the central storyline for the first half of this show, but it made my skin crawl. I know that Tom Cullen has discussed this issue with fans, and I think his portrayal of Thomas is spectacular. My problem is with Princess Elizabeth and how she goes along with the relationship to the point of no return. I feel like Princess Elizabeth was much stronger than how she was portrayed during those moments in the show, and she would have turned Thomas down, knowing the false allegations against her mother, Anne Boleyn. I do not think she slept with Thomas Seymour, but I do believe there were elements of flirting between the two, which could have been seen as them having an intimate relationship.
The creator of “Becoming Elizabeth,” Anya Reiss, has done a magnificent job telling the Tudor dynasty’s tale after Henry VIII’s death. The cast and crew are spectacular, the gowns and costumes are gorgeous, and there are so many Easter eggs that Tudor nerds will geek over. There will be moments that will make you laugh, cry, want to throw a book at your TV or laptop, and breathe a sigh of relief. I may not have seen many Tudor dramas in the past, but this is far and away one of my favorite shows about the 16th century. I hope we will get a second season of “Becoming Elizabeth,”, especially with how they closed the finale.
What are your opinions about “Becoming Elizabeth,” and who is your favorite character from this Tudor drama?
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