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‘Becoming Elizabeth’ Tells Story of Queen Elizabeth I’s Rocky Rise

Becoming Elizabeth on Starz
(Image credit: Starz)

Becoming Elizabeth, a period drama about Queen Elizabeth I, starts on Starz Sunday, June 12. Alicia von Rittberg plays the queen, who was born in 1533 and died in 1603.

Starz calls the drama “the fascinating, untold story of the early life of England’s most iconic Queen. Long before she ascended the throne, young Elizabeth Tudor was an orphaned teenager who became embroiled in the political alliances and sexual politics of the English court. The death of King Henry VIII sets into motion a dangerous scramble for power. His surviving children find themselves pawns in a game between the great families of England and the powers of Europe who vie for control of the country.”

Anya Reiss created the show. She executive produces with George Ormond and George Faber. The idea came to be when Ormond said he was interested in doing something on Elizabeth I’s younger years. “I said, absolutely not, it’s been done to death,” responded Reiss. “But then he started to tell me the story, and I was amazed I didn’t know it. I wanted to be the one to tell it.”

Everything Reiss heard from Ormond about Queen Elizabeth I, who was queen for 44 years, elicited a few new questions. “Everything fell into place,” said Reiss, who wrote the project. “It’s a really exciting thing, to explore the pieces that make someone.”

The show is available at midnight June 12 on the Starz app, and on Starz’s streaming and on demand platforms. It’s on linear at 9 p.m. ET/PT that day. 

Oliver Zetterstrom plays Henry VIII’s son Edward and Romola Garai plays Mary, half sister of Edward and Elizabeth. Jessica Raine plays King Henry’s widow, Catherine, and Tom Cullen portrays Thomas Seymour. 

Asked for a few adjectives that describe Elizabeth, Reiss offered intelligent and stubborn. Reiss said von Rittberg effectively encapsulates a complicated character. “There’s something empathetic about Alicia that draws you in,” said Reiss. She added that the producers “de-iconify [Queen Elizabeth I] in many ways,” as “icons are not really human.”

Historical consultant Peter Wagstaff was available to make sure the story stayed authentic and accurate. “He pulled me back into line whenever I wrote something that wouldn’t happen,” said Reiss. 

Becoming Elizabeth is shot in England, primarily in Bristol. 

Reviewer Matt Roush called the show “a handsome and sensuous historical costume drama beginning what we hope is a several-season run on Starz” on TV Insider, and described von Rittberg’s portrayal of Elizabeth as “quietly compelling.”

Asked what makes Elizabeth I’s story relevant in 2022, Reiss said the show is about a woman struggling to stay safe, and a woman struggling to have and retain power. 

“We just tried to find the humanity in these people,” she added. “Once you find people’s humanity, the truth about who we are as people remains true, whether it’s 500 years ago or not.” ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.