If you think you know the actress who plays Mary Tudor in Becoming Elizabeth, you’re not wrong. Romola Garai, the British actress who plays Elizabeth I’s complicated sister, appeared in films like Atonement in 2007 and was Emma Woodhouse in the 2008 version of Jane Austen’s classic Emma. Initially referred to as “the new Keira Knightley” or the “new Kate Winslet”, Romola did not dedicate herself to Hollywood, but to a consistent career on the English stage. Whether starring in Shakespeare alongside Sir Ian McKellen, plays with Dame Helen Mirren, or modern texts, the actress is dedicated to feminist causes and has a consistent career.
Her Mary Tudor, future Queen Mary I, in the Starz series, brings humanity, dignity, and complexity to a character who, for her drama and exaggerations, is often ridiculed and reduced to hysterics. A more realistic and sensitive vision for a Queen who became known as “Bloody Mary“.
Mary Tudor’s life was not easy. The only child of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII to survive to adulthood, as a teenager she witnessed the painful and humiliating separation of her parents. She suffered from her stepmother, Anne Boleyn, who was considered a bastard so her sister, Elizabeth I, had priority and later, went through the same with her brother, King Edward VI.
She was estranged from her mother, she had her Catholic faith as a risk factor for being murdered, and she was rejected from all sides. A child prodigy, since adolescence she started to have irregular menstruation and depression, always sick. Almost like a servant to her sister (later her brother), she always remained a fervent Catholic, resisting pressure to convert to Protestantism.
Despite their religious differences, as the series Becoming Elizabeth shows, Henry VIII’s three sons had a survival connection. But when he ascended the throne at age nine, Edward proved to be just as fanatical about his faith as his sister, with two adopting out of radicalism and mutual attempts to convert each other. Thus, in his short reign, Edward came to fear Mary who, in the event of his death and direct heir, would bring the Catholic faith back to the United Kingdom. He tried to stop it, putting the young Jane Grey in succession before his sisters but failed. In less than 5 years, Mary Tudor became Queen Mary I. In her equally short reign, she was a ruthless queen when it came to faith. It is estimated that more than 280 Protestants were burned to death at the stake fueled by the Queen’s followers.
As Jane Grey was “erased” from history, Mary was officially the first female queen of England. On account of her marriage to Philip of Spain, she became queen consort of Habsburg Spain on her accession.
Unable to sustain a pregnancy, Mary was losing her mental health. Her marriage (without love on the part of her husband) also contributed to the Queen’s grief, who refused to sign Elizabeth’s death. She became ill suddenly and died, at age 42, possibly of ovarian cysts or uterine cancer. Her wish to be buried next to her mother was not granted.
Mary’s legacy is connected to her faith, her emotional instability, and her violent religious persecution. Above all, linked to your unhappiness. In the specific case of Elizabeth, according to the story of Tracy Borman, there was a special bond between the sisters. According to Tracy, because she was already 17 when Elizabeth was born, Mary felt sorry for her sister and also identified herself, after all, she was rejected as a result of her parent’s separation and saw little Elizabeth, still without having any notion of her own existence with just 4 years old, losing her mother and being tossed aside too.
With her maternal side brought out, Mary “took care” of the little one. “They should have been enemies from the start, but they were actually very close when Elizabeth was a kid,” Tracy said in a 2020 History Extra interview. And, watching her sister’s mistakes, Elizabeth learned too. “She learned what not to do, actually. Mary married a foreigner, Philip of Spain, who was anathema to his English subjects, and who tended to hate foreigners. As queen, she was also very dogmatic in matters of religion and that alienated more people.” “Elizabeth, when she became queen, decided not to marry. Because who would you choose? She also sought a more moderate religion, one not famous for making ‘windows into men’s hearts,” he added.
Romola doesn’t look like the Queen’s paintings in her later years, but in Becoming Elizabeth has been stealing the show. Her Mary is traumatized, but it also demonstrates the princess’s culture, intelligence, and political acumen to survive the adversities of the Court. Her dubious relationship with his half-sister has been one of the interesting points. Elizabeth, like Mary, was above average and – for survival – plays the difficult game of trying to be on good terms with her sister and brother who are on opposite sides. We’ll talk more about her, at the moment, it’s time to praise one of the best actresses in the cast, Romola Garai.