Elizabeth I – Channel 5 getting in on the fashion of bodice-ripping historical dramas?

While up visiting my grandmother at her care home, my eye was drawn to a trailer for a new historical drama on Elizabeth I, which is airing this evening on Channel 5. I must admit, I don’t really watched a lot of non-streamed TV, so trailers for new shows tend to pass me by. However, I was intrigued by this one. It has all those tradition trailer features designed to draw in viewers – a modern, highly rhythmic (almost metallic) audio track played over shorts clips of bloody war, long shots of the main female protagonist and, you guessed it from the titled, sex.

Channel 5 Queen Elizabeth I drama
Undated handout photo issued by Channel 5 of Lily Cole as Queen Elizabeth I preparing for her coronation, who will play the Queen in a new three-part Channel 5 programme.

Historic dramas such as The Tudors, Outlander and Game of Thrones have popularised outlandish and at times shocking sex scenes designed to astound and sicken their audience. Jamie’s rape in Outlander, Henry and Anne Boleyn’s romp in the trees in The Tudors and the multiple images of rape and incest between all of the Game of Thrones characters (which I know is a fantasy novel and does not have any historical grounding, but still gets lumped into the historic drama category) may showcase the brutality of our past, but has also changed the goalposts in terms of appropriate viewing.

jamie rape
Jamie and Captain Randall, Season 1, Outlander

Even historical dramas such as Reign, which tells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots in the early days of her reign while she was resident in France, have effectively rewritten history specifically to include sex. Mary and Francis I’s marriage has always (to my knowledge) been accepted by historians as non-consummated, since Francis was already very ill by the time he wed. They were also only 15 and 14 years-old respectively (but lets not debate age and sex in the Tudor period). In the TV show, however, the 20-something year-old actors are shown to both consummate before and after their wedding. In fact, a scene is written in that shows Mary having a miscarriage. Yes, yes, it is just a TV show – but considering Mary, Queen of Scots very rarely gets the same attention in media as Elizabeth I, can’t we at least remove some of the fantasy in favour of historical accuracy. It is not like her true-life story is boring!


reign sex
Mary and Francis, Reign


That being said, a preview about Channel 5s Elizabeth I shows researcher Dr Suzannah Lipscombe talking about the premise of the show, so hopefully it will make more of an attempt to stick to the facts rather than making it another bodice-ripping romp. Gone are the days of the shaky BBC sets, where sex was merely implied with a quick cut to black.


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