Roush Review: ‘Becoming Elizabeth’ Turns History Into a Lusty Bodice-Ripper

Becoming Elizabeth

Becoming Elizabeth

Matt's Rating: rating: 3.0 stars

Is it coincidence or accident that the petulant boy king who succeeds King Henry VIII in 1547 reminds me so much of Game of Thrones’ toxic Joffrey? Probably not. But poor little puppet Edward VI (Oliver Zetterström), whose time on the English throne will sadly be limited — spoiler alert: he dies at 15 — isn’t the focus of Becoming Elizabeth, a handsome and sensuous historical costume drama beginning what we hope is a several-season run on Starz.

Center stage belongs to princeling Eddie’s older half-sister Elizabeth (a quietly compelling Alicia von Rittberg), the future legendary queen who’s the odd adolescent out when medieval England falls into political and religious disarray upon Henry’s death. Religious schism continues to roil the land, with young Edward representing his father’s new church and pious eldest sibling Mary (poignant Romola Garai), the daughter of the late Catherine of Aragon, adhering devoutly to her Catholic faith. (She will later be known infamously as “Bloody Mary” when she takes over, aggressively trying to reverse the reformation.)

Don’t worry if you’ve misplaced your Tudor playbook. Leave it to Lord Protector Dudley (the intense Jamie Parker), the de facto ruler and surrogate father to Edward, to lay out the high stakes in simple terms: “The king [Edward] is a fanatic. His sister [Mary] is a fanatic. The country is a powder keg. Our duty is to stop anyone lighting either fuse.”

Regardless, Becoming Elizabeth is less obsessed with the royal intrigue than with bodice ripping—quite literally at one point—once young Liz’s loins are stirred by the flirtatious attentions of her brother’s rowdy uncle, Thomas Seymour (the charismatic Tom Cullen), who impulsively weds the late king’s lusty and manipulative widow, Catherine Parr (Jessica Raine, chewing the luscious scenery). These are dangerous games of seduction and manipulation, and anyone who thinks the current Elizabeth II, being rightly celebrated in her Platinum Jubilee year (and in the ongoing series The Crown), ever truly had an “annus horribilis,” the Windsors had it easy compared to this contentious clan.

As OG Elizabeth, the daughter of the disgraced and executed Anne Boleyn, knows only too well, carrying the wrong torch could get one burned at the stake. Tread carefully, princess.

Becoming Elizabeth, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 12, 9/8c, Starz