Essentially the story of Elizabeth's transformation from sensual young hothead to hard-hearted queen, evolving sub-plots also explore issues of femininity, power and high politics.
The film begins with the brutalised and cynical 'Bloody Mary' (Kathy Burke) persecuting Protestants, while her half-sister Elizabeth is a happy-go-lucky young woman enjoying the first flushes of love with the Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes). Fearing Elizabeth's Protestant leanings, Mary imprisons her and plots to have her killed.
On her deathbed, Mary has a change of heart and Elizabeth ascends to the throne. Thrust into an edgy world of political and religious flux she struggles to protect her power, life and independence as the court boils with intrigue and conspiracy.
Despite flashing eyes and sumptuous court finery, this intelligent period drama skilfully avoids the swamp of nostalgic fantasy. Kapur draws the best from an outstanding cast (including Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough and Christopher Eccleston) and delivers both an atmospheric romance and a mature exploration of a big theme - the dark duplicity, betrayal and grubby ambition that run through Britain's bloodthirsty history.