When we’re talking about anything and everything having to do with The Tudors, it sometimes feels like everything has been done. There is nothing that hasn’t been covered, talked about, or explored.
But the truth is that there is always another angle to explore in anything. There have been many times that I have found the Tudors to be over the top and really went past everything that was about them. Because everything and everyone seemed miserable and quite frankly a little off kilter.
But Becoming Elizabeth looked different. We’ve all seen so many people play the iconic queen, it feels like there has been story after story about her. But this one, well, it just felt different in all the previews.
We’ve seen the first four episodes of the show and we were completely blown away with the acting, the setting, the costumes – but most of all the writing and the story. This isn’t the Tudor story that you’re used to.
We had the pleasure of talking with Becoming Elizabeth creators and Executive Producers Anya Reiss and George Ormond about the show and just why this story was so important to tell.
These two have an enthusiasm that no one else did. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Their passion for the story of Elizabeth and everyone around her is electrifying.
And it shows in the story they put on the screen.
Q: I just binged all four episodes last night, so I absolutely loved it, and I know nothing about the story of Elizabeth to be very honest with you, so I felt like it was great. What made you want to tell this story, and why was it important for you guys to tell?
Anya: I think… I didn’t know it happened, I suppose, was the major thing. And I thought I knew this bit of history because you do do… We’re aware Henry VIII had a lot of wives, and then we know Elizabeth, Spanish Armada, and that kind of stuff. And I kind of assumed there was nothing interesting in this little area. And there is. And everything that happens, I mean, just in terms of the history, it’s extraordinary, and I think something that should be explored, and actually is much more informative of who we are as a United Kingdom than actually some of the kind of slightly propaganda-ish take of Elizabeth. The going, “Look how amazing her reign was.”
But I think, also everything just in terms of her personal story feels so formative and so important for who she was later. And she made so much more sense to me as a human and as a leader, knowing this bit of history. And I think aside from the fact that it’s all real and all that kind of thing, I just find it really interesting, the idea of doing a coming-of-age story with someone who you know who she grows into. And kind of you’re doing the story completely in reverse of, we know what happens. Let’s explore why it happened.
Q: It was amazing. But, what was the hardest part of bringing the story to life and picking and choosing what was important to tell versus what’s already out there?
Anya: I think what I was always an ambition for, it was to make it a real ensemble piece where everyone’s story informs each other’s story, and not do that slightly blinkered thing sometimes you can do in history drama, where you pick a character to focus on, and everything important has to seem to happen to them.
It’s kind of like they have to walk past the battle, kind of thing. And this felt like everyone’s lives should be important because I think that’s the approach political thrillers take slightly more, and I wanted to embrace that.
So, I think it was hard to narrow down our characters, but once we found them, I think, yeah, it was just trying to tell their stories as fully as possible, the ones we had picked, and let them cross each other. I mean, I think we are… There’s not much of Elizabeth that we left out or hugely-
George: No. I mean, I think all of that is true. And I also think that one of the things that’s amazing about this time, which hopefully why you liked so much, Erin, is that almost every single one of our central characters could have had their own show. Their stories are so incredible.
And that in itself is quite challenging because they’re always trying to elbow themselves to the front of the script. And John Dudley could have had his own series. Somerset could have had his own series. Thomas could have had their own… They all could have their own show, and they’re all kind of competing for airspace.
Trying to definitely interweave all of those stories, and also then put the focus on a woman who is the center of our story universe but is not the person steering the ship, is a really interesting thing. That is a really interesting thing to explore, because it’s about a character who doesn’t quite have the levers of power in her hands, and therefore has a really interesting experience of this world, but is surrounded by all these kind of loud, noisy characters who all want to kind of take control of the story.
So, I think that is a really interesting but rewarding challenge, I think.
Q: I agree. I think what I loved personally was I never knew who was the hero and who was the villain. I’d think I liked somebody, and the next second I would hate them, and then I’d be like, “Wait a second. How did they play into things?” And it was all these intricate pieces put together, and it made me feel like every character was important, and I wanted to know every character’s story.
Because I know I took away from it, this series, a want for more information. But what do you hope that people find in this series, and take from this series? Why is Elizabeth’s story is important to tell, as her sisters? As her brothers?
Anya: I think the thing that struck me from researching this time was how similar they are to us, and how much… Times were different, but actually morality wasn’t different. And they did care about their family and they did care about their children, and they did care about executing people, and they did care if their partner was cheating on them. And there was a kind of realness to them. And I think we kind of get away sometimes with going like, “Oh, the past was different,” rather than kind of grappling with the truth of what the past is.
Because I think it makes it much more digestible, the past, if you go, “Oh, they didn’t care about those things.” Actually they did, and they knew that a lot of things they were doing were wrong, and they did it anyway. And I think that’s a really interesting truth about people and about humanity. And I think that’s worth exploring and worth kind of confronting in us.
I mean, this sounds like a very lofty ambition for a fucking TV show, but I mean, I think it’s worth us as people confronting the terrible things that have happened in the past, and not act like, “Oh, it was a different time.” There’s some truths about who we are that were always true. Does that make sense?
Q: Religion takes such a center stage, and I honestly had no idea that religion was so guiding back then. How did you balance that with the stories? Because even though I felt like religion was a central theme, I didn’t feel like it took away from everybody’s personal stories. I feel like it was a motivation, but I didn’t feel preached to, if that makes sense.
Anya: The reason religion played such a huge part in their lives is because there was so much death, and so much stuff, that how can you square your head with that, unless you believe in something? So, I think once we kind of accept that, it becomes a much more human thing to write about, rather than a kind of, “Oh, this is the role politics and religion was playing.” Kind of like it’s unrelated and slightly cerebral. It’s a very deep-rooted human thing, I think.
Q: Is there any scene that you research and wrote that didn’t make it into the series, that you wish would have?
Anya: I’ll be here all day. I was very sad to lose the Duke of Somerset’s wife. Other than that, there’s a list. I thought that was part of, I suppose, finding those characters and just going, actually we can’t open up that new avenue. Because also, I wanted to treat everyone properly and fully as a person, and sometimes you kind of went, “Well, he had a wife, so now I want to do that life.”
And then George repeatedly had to say, “This is not the Duke of Somerset’s show,” because I was obsessed with… I knew a lot about him. But you did sometimes have to close off things that were so interesting. But just for the sake of, if you can’t fully explore them, you are actually doing it a disservice by throwing it in.
Q: I’m going to look her up now because now because I’m curious to know why she was so important and why she was so amazing.
Anya: First wife, and then… Oh, it’s too-
George: So, the Duke of Somerset’s wife, in this show, would’ve been his second wife, wouldn’t it? His first wife has an amazing story.
Anya: His first wife, I’m saying, is what then made me go, “And who was his second wife if that’s-“
Anya: Such a cool guy, the Duke of Somerset, I think.
George: His first wife… So, this is a bit of a diversion, but his first wife, they split up because she had an affair with his father.
Anya: And then they locked her in a monastery. They made her become a nun.
Q: Wow. I’m definitely looking this up later today.
Becoming Elizabeth premieres today on Starz. Will you be watching?