Becoming Elizabeth: Why telling stories about historical women matters

Starz greenlights another female-focused story about the woman of Tudor history with Becoming Elizabeth, a story of early years of the iconic queen’s life.

Premium cable network Starz has officially ordered its fourth historical drama about an influential woman from the Tudor family. Perhaps the most influential woman, in fact: Queen Elizabeth I.

This is exciting news in and of itself, simply because this new series. titled Becoming Elizabeth, will aim to adapt a period of the iconic queen’s life that isn’t often given much attention – her early years. But it’s also important in a larger sense – as another example that the future of the period drama genre lies in telling stories about women.

Starz’s series of Tudor-focused dramas is unique because it looks at history through the eyes of those who don’t often have a voice in how we remember it: Women.

These series have aimed to change that fact, by re-imagining the story of one of the most well known British historical periods through a specifically female – and feminist – lens. Rather than focusing primarily on King Henry VII and his more famous, violent son, King Henry VIII, these dramas tell the story of the women behind the Tudor dynasty, who helped create and shape it.

The White Queen tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, The White Princess follows the story of her daughter Elizabeth of York, and The Spanish Princess depicts the arrival of Spanish Infanta Katherine of Aragon, who married Lizzie’s second son, Henry. Yes, the Henry that went on to become rather famous for beheading two of his wives. Becoming Elizabeth will focus on his daughter.

But though Henry himself appears as a character at one point Spanish Princess, none of these series are a story about him – or about any of the men involved. Instead, they’re stories about the women who are far too often overshadowed by the men in their lives, because those same men are the ones who determines how history is written down.

Becoming Elizabeth will be Starz’s first historical Tudor drama that’s not based on one of the novels from bestselling author Philippa Gregory. It will focus primarily on the queen’s younger years, as a teenage princess not yet come to her throne. And lest you think this is boring, trust me, it’s not: Elizabeth’s life was full of conflict and scandal throughout.

When she was young she was accused of everything from attempting to seduce her stepmother’s new husband (Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth’s wife, married again after his death) to plotting a coup to overthrow her young brother, King Edward. Some of those stories may have even actually been true. (Take a guess what history seems to largely believe. Just saying.)

Playwright Anya Reiss is the head writer and executive producer for the series, which will also boast an all-female writing staff, indicating that these perspectives are not just valuable but necessary to the story the show plans to tell.

“Drama seems to skip straight from Henry VIII’s turnstile of wives to an adult white faced Gloriana,” Reiss said in a statement. “Missing out boy kings, religious fanatics, secret affairs and a young orphaned teenager trying to save herself from the vicious scramble to the top. I should have found it hard to relate to 500 year old royalty but Elizabeth lived in dangerous, polarizing times and often made terrible hormone-fueled decisions.”

A show about a flawed, realistic girl who had to learn to wield and accept her own power – and who would ultimately grow to become one of the most powerful women the world has ever seen? Sign us up right now.

There’s no word yet on when we might see Becoming Elizabeth, who might play the young princess or, really, anything else about the show. So we’ll all have to sit tight for a bit – at least until The Spanish Princess is back on our screens next year.

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Becoming Elizabeth will likely debut at some point in 2020. 

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