Becoming Elizabeth, Season One (2022)


Becoming Elizabeth is an entertaining if somewhat underwhelming glimpse into a period of history rarely explored on film. As they haul the dead body of Henry VIII to its final resting place, everyone's attention turns to Edward VI (Oliver Zetterström) as the future king. He is not old enough to rule without a regent, a task his uncle, Edward Seymour (John Heffernan), undertakes with great enthusiasm. Little does he know that his younger brother, Thomas (Tom Cullen), has his eye on a prize close to the throne -- he marries the dowager queen Catherine Parr (Jessica Raine) in secret and then brings Princess Elizabeth (Alicia von Rittberg) to their country home. The king allows the marriage to save his reputation, but no one at court appreciates the brashness of a commoner in marrying without royal consent.


Elizabeth spent several weeks growing to know Thomas before he announced the secret marriage; it's time enough for her to form a romantic attachment to him and start fantasizing about their future together. To her surprise and his wife's shock, his shameless flirtations with her do not cease even after it's common knowledge that he is now master of the house. Her older and wiser half sister, Princess Mary (Romola Garai) cautions her to be careful of him and guard her reputation -- but Elizabeth cannot deny her heart's desire. She teeters on the edge of inappropriateness, while men scrabble at the royal court for position and Edward Seymour goes to war against Scotland, over their refusal to send the child Mary Queen of Scots to the English court as promised, as the future wife of their king. His namesake proves to be a ruthless zealot who intends to wipe Protestantism out of England forever, and turns a harsh eye upon Mary, who has held onto her Catholic faith.


Before long, all of them get tested and some of them get embroiled in schemes against the monarchy or accused of conspiracy. The series has good and bad points. For the most part, the casting is spot on, especially in the roles of Mary, Thomas Seymour, and young Edward. Bella Ramsey also shines in the role of Lady Jane, who has not much screen time this season but will become important later. And many incidents are either drawn directly from history books or inspired by rumors about these people at the time. Normally, I'm very invested in Elizabeth's story... but this time, I cared about her the least. I am not sure if it was because she had a typical "teen romance" in which she fell in love with an utter rake who used her ill (it doesn't sit right with me that they romanticize the predatory behavior of Thomas Seymour toward her by having her fall in love with him), or because the actress comes across as petulant and whiny. Romola gives a far more nuanced, mature depiction of Mary and has so much gravitas that I had to roll my eyes whenever she remarked on her sister's "cleverness." They told us about it, but never showed us; this Elizabeth is impetuous and foolish, a far cry from the brilliant historical figure who ran strategic rings around her own Council members. I also don't like them taking Catherine Parr and making a semi-villain out of her; this deeply devout woman wrote one of the most interesting Protestant novels of the period, but here she's a jealous, immoral, sex-starved schemer.


The costumes and set design are brilliant, and the opening credits are lovely, but the pacing seems weird. Some episodes are dull and drag out fictionalized events (like Elizabeth assuming she is pregnant) where others rush through events (Edward Seymour rises and falls in a failed coup to put Mary on the throne during the king's illness all in one episode, but his brother's arrest and downfall takes two episodes). There was far less sexual content than I expected (which I appreciated), but far more profanity; in their desire to "sex up and modernize" the series, there's a slew of anachronistic f-words. Even Princess Mary uses one of them! In that period, she would not have, nor would anyone use it in front of her. The scripts do an excellent job of making me livid at the religious persecution of the time, whether it's the burning of Catholics or Edward bullying his sister into giving up her faith (he tries, she resists). It's historically accurate that Edward was a fanatic and the series does a good job of making him despicable, childish, and controlling in the exact way the real one was; I just wish the rest of the characters would have been truer to their real counterparts.

Sexual Content:
Four sex scenes with graphic sounds and movement; one of them involves nudity and a glimpse at a woman's breasts; others are clothed. A man strips naked and runs into a pond (backside nudity). A crass, vulgar play is performed where characters have exaggerated male body parts (a character that plays the pope winds up touching all of them, then being thrown to the floor and harassed). Adultery and grooming, since a man who has sex with a girl several times is in his thirties and she is only fourteen/fifteen; the series romanticizes a man's abuse of a girl by having her fall in love with him. A man and woman cut a woman's dress off her, leaving her standing only in a shift.
40 f-words, several uses of c*nt, two of cock, five of sh*t, and six abuses of Jesus' name.
Two graphic beheadings, one of which doesn't sever his head immediately (we see the axe stuck halfway through his neck); a man is graphically burned at the stake and we see him writhing and screaming while characters watch and talk about heresy; Lady Jane's father beats her for performing badly in singing before the king; several scenes involve animal cruelty. Elizabeth shoots a stag with an arrow and then slits its throat (she doesn't want it to suffer); for allowing it, a man is slapped across the face. A royal crowd watches two roosters fight, in which one kills the other (we see the body being removed); in a childish temper tantrum, the boy king orders a beautiful falcon "plucked while it is still alive," and we see the man yanking out feathers and hear the bird screaming in pain. A dog is shot when it interrupts an intruder; we see it lying in a pool of blood, and the king cradling its dead body.



The series slanders Catherine Parr and misrepresents historical events.

Charity's Novels!

Get caught up on her fantastic books!