The Virgin Queen
The Virgin Queen
Starts on BBC ONE on Sunday 22 January at 9.00pm
Set against a backdrop of some of Britain's most beautiful houses and landscapes, Paula Milne's powerfully-authored drama serial, The Virgin Queen, explores the full sweep of the long and eventful life of England's iconic queen - 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 Armada; and finally her old age and her last enigmatic relationship with her young protégé, the Earl of Essex.
One of British television's most accomplished writing talents, Paula Milne had never written a word of period drama before she was approached to dramatise the life of Elizabeth I.
From creating and script editing on popular drama series like Angels through to writing Hollywood films for Clive Owen and Tom Cruise plus amazing series like Second Sight, The Politician's Wife and Fragile Heart, Paula confessed to knowing nothing about that period of history.
However, she took up the gauntlet and read more than 30 books on the subject, and spoke to numerous Elizabethan aficionados. Paula was soon taking on all comers on the finer points of Tudor history.
"It rapidly became clear that the role of this brilliant, elusive and endlessly contradictory queen was a character she was born to write," says producer, Paul Rutman.
Laura Mackie, BBC Head of Drama Series & Serials, says: "Paula has written an amazing number of dramas. I felt she would be a great choice given her track record for writing female characters.
"The fact that Paula knew very little about Elizabeth was a huge asset because she came without any preconceptions: she just immersed herself in research, and once she'd done that, she carved her way through in a kind of bravura way, taking a very personal approach to the material, writing something which is an intimate and personal portrait."
Paula Milne says: "I decided to look at Elizabeth as a character, a stateswoman and public figure using some contemporary references to see if they held up.
"What we have done in this drama which differs from the many portrayals of her in theatre, movies and television before is that we have taken the whole of her life.
"Some of my favourite moments are really in the personal stuff; the see-sawing, pulling to and fro between Elizabeth and Dudley and her temptation and desire to be close to him, to even marry him and then pulling away. I always get misty-eyed about that because that to me is the heart of Elizabeth and Dudley."
Director Coky Giedroyc, whose credits include BBC ONE's Blackpool, says: "What I really wanted to do was make a thriller. I wanted to grab people and hit the ground running and pull people into incredible close-ups of Elizabeth and her breathless journey.
"Elizabeth had fundamentally a real pathological fear of intimacy," continues Giedroyc.
"Her father (Henry VIII) represented everything male, and once you get close to a man you get killed. I also think politically, as a virgin, she was coming in after Mary Tudor and she was giving herself the iconic status of the Virgin Mary.
"It was a deeply religious time and devotion to the Virgin Mary would have been intense, and I think that Elizabeth created the 'brand' of Elizabeth The Virgin Queen, the Virgin Mother of God, the absolutely all-powerful female."
Mackie says: "This is Coky's first full-blown, full-bodied, historical adaptation. I think that she is a great storyteller.
"Coky brings a great clarity to the narrative. She takes you very confidently through aspects of Elizabeth's life, not frightened of changing gear. She also cast it in an imaginative and very fresh way, so it feels like a really rich and varied mix of familiar and new faces.
"I also think it is absolutely vital that we keep refreshing the talent base of television directors on period dramas. We have a tradition of giving opportunities to people who have cut their teeth on contemporary drama, and I think it is really important for the industry that we continue to do that," says Mackie.
"David Yates, who was brought in to do The Way We Live Now, has moved on to direct Harry Potter via BBC ONE's State of Play and Channel 4's Sex Traffic.
"The fantastic Joe Wright, who directed BBC ONE's Bafta Award-winning drama serial, Charles II, his first period drama, has just done the hugely acclaimed movie Pride And Prejudice.
"We wanted to find an actress who was versatile enough to cover the full sweep of Elizabeth's life," says Mackie.
"Anne-Marie Duff brings enormous likeability to the role. She is an actress the audience feels a real empathy towards because of her role as Fiona in Shameless.
"If you see what Anne-Marie does as she ages physically from episode one to episode four, it is a truly awesome performance."
Rutman agrees: "Anne-Marie found a fierce humanity in the role, delivering intimacy as well as hauteur. She instinctively reaches out a hand to the audience and invites them into a world which might otherwise seem lofty and impenetrable: the world of history and high court intrigue.
"I think she is technically as sharp as any actress I have encountered.
"We had a big dilemma about whether to shoot this project abroad or remain here in England," says Rutman. "It's become received wisdom in recent years that the most economical route for realising big-scale costume dramas is to film overseas, often in Eastern Europe.
"The promise of cheap labour and large studios has proved too seductive for production executives to resist.
"However, after a lot of discussion and research, we abandoned the idea. We felt it essential to capture not simply the accuracy of Tudor buildings but the distinctive quality of the English landscape.
"After extensive recces across Britain, we were stunned by the richness of possibilities at home. We had no idea that such a wealth of medieval and Tudor architecture still remained on our own doorstep. We realised it was imperative we make this a home-grown Elizabeth drama.
"Tudor history has been covered on television a lot by historians like Simon Schama and David Starkey, and so, in some ways, it's familiar terrain with a lot of viewers, but what we're hoping is to bring the character and relevance of Elizabeth into people's living rooms in an intimate way - perhaps in a way they haven't encountered before - and hopefully restore her humanity to a fresh generation of viewers."
Cast list includes: Joanne Whalley as Queen Mary; Dexter Fletcher as the Earl of Sussex; Tara Fitzgerald as Kat Ashley; Sienna Guillory as Lettice Knollys; Tom Hardy as Robert Dudley; Ian Hart as William Cecil; Robert Pugh as Lord Chancellor Gardiner; Kevin McKidd as the Duke of Norfolk; Hans Matheson as the Earl of Essex; Emilia Fox as Amy Dudley; Ben Daniels as Francis Walsingham; Ewen Bremner as Sir James Melville and Bryan Dick as Thomas Wyatt.
A BBC/Power co-production for BBC ONE, The Virgin Queen is written by Paula Milne (The Politician's Wife, Hollow Reed, Mad Love, I Dreamed of Africa).
The executive producers are Justin Bodle for Power and Laura Mackie & Simon Curtis for the BBC. The producer is Paul Rutman and director is Coky Giedroyc (Blackpool).
The Virgin Queen is part of a broad portfolio of projects including The Family Man, Mayo, Soundproof - and more recently, Shakespeare Re-Told and Bleak House - from BBC Drama Series & Serials, headed by Laura Mackie.