By Kenneth Jones
25 Sep 2003
The film "is the imaginative and visually stunning adaptation of Timothy Findley's award-winning play," according to CBC production notes. "Findley uses his bold imagination to create a fictional encounter between William Shakespeare and the formidable Queen Elizabeth I. On a historic night in 1601 the Earl of Essex has been imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason. But the Earl is not just any political traitor, he is the Queen's ex lover. Seeking distraction From the impending execution, the Queen summons Shakespeare's theatre troupe to perform a play. 'Elizabeth Rex' is a fierce battle of wits as the characters navigate the complexities of sex, identity and love."
Tony Award-winner Brent Carver (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Diane D'Aquila star as actor Ned Lowenscroft and Queen Elizabeth, respectively. They repeat roles from the world premiere Stratford Festival stage production.
The film airs on "Opening Night," CBC Television's performance arts program.
The drama about the 1601 aftermath of the Earl of Essex's unsuccessful revolt against Queen Elizabeth I is right up Stratford's alley: The company's foundation, since its beginning in 1952, is the work of Shakespeare, the chief poet of the Elizabethan reign.
The play, with Brent Carver, Scott Wentworth, Peter Hutt and Diane D'Aquila in choice roles, depicted Elizabeth I spending a long night with Shakespeare and his troupe prior to the Earl's execution.
Following a presentation of Much Ado About Nothing for the pained Queen, Shakespeare and company retire to stables and are visited by the monarch. A debate about love, art, life, death, love ensues and lasts until dawn, when her former lover is to be executed.
Martha Henry directed the Stratford commission (Barbara Willis Sweete directed the film version), presented in the intimate, three-quarter thrust Tom Patterson Theatre. Performances continued in 2000 in repertory through Sept. 30. Previews began June 21.
The original cast featured Damien Atkins as Tom Travis, Evan Buliung as Matt, Andrew Burr as Ben, Joyce Campion as Tardy, Brent Carver as actor Ned Lowenscroft, Diane D'Aquila as Queen Elizabeth I, Wayne Davis as Attendant/Watch, Pragna Desai as Attendant/Watch, Keith Dinicol as Percy Gower, Paul Dunn as Harry, Michael Fawkes as Luddy Beddoes, Aaron Franks as Ned's Tame Bear, Bernard Hopkins as Lord Robert Cecil, Rita Howell as Anne, Peter Hutt as William Shakespeare, Florence MacGregor as Lady Mary Stanley, Andy Pogson as Attendant/Watch, Rose Ryan as Attendant/Watch and Scott Wentworth as Jack.
The script was workshopped at the Stratford Festival in 1997 under the direction of Paul Thompson.
Playwright Findley was born in Toronto in 1930 and began his career as an actor, appearing on Broadway, in London and Moscow. He gave it up in 1962 to focus on writing.
He first came to prominence for his novel, "The Wars." His other works include "Not Wanted on the Voyage," "Famous Last Words," "The Last of the Crazy People" and "The Piano Man's Daughter." In 1995, Stratford presented Findley's The Stillborn Lover, which has also been adapted into a film.
Findley died June 20, 2002, in Provence, France, after an illness.
Findley, 71, was also an actor, a part of the 1953 first season of at Stratford, Ontario. He would later return as a playwright. "He was a great friend of the Festival, a friend of mine and a friend of the arts in Canada," Stratford artistic director Richard Monette said in a statement. "We mourn his loss."
The prestigious festival produced Findley's play, The Stillborn Lover, in 1995, and in 2000 commissioned Elizabeth Rex, which enjoyed great success at Stratford and went on to win the 2000 Governor-General's Award for Drama. Elizabeth Rex has since been produced across North America and recently opened in England.
Findley's The Trials of Ezra Pound received its stage premiere at the festival's Tom Patterson Theatre in the 2001 season and his newest play, Shadows, began previews Aug. 17, 2002, in the Studio Theatre. At the time of his death he was developing another work, The Trojan Women, to be produced on the Festival stage at Stratford in the future.
His book, "Not Wanted on the Voyage," was adapted for the stage and presented at the National Theatre School and Necessary Angel.
Findley received his early stage training in Toronto, where he was born in 1930. According to the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, Findley was raised in the privileged Toronto neighborhood of Rosedale in a family of "failed men," as he once said in interview — a brother died in childhood and Mr. Findley, his father and another brother were alcoholics.
After the 1953 season at Stratford ended, festival artistic director Tyrone Guthrie helped him, along with a handful of other young actors, to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England. Findley graduated from the school in 1954 and played in London's West End, on Broadway and in Moscow before leaving the stage in 1962 to pursue his writing career.
Findley first achieved renown as a writer with his 1977 novel "The Wars," which won the Governor-General's Award for English fiction. It was made into a film in 1981 by former Stratford Festival artistic director Robin Phillips, with Brent Carver, William Hutt, Martha Henry and many other festival actors taking roles. Findley's last novel, "Spadework" (2001), is set in Stratford and has as its main character a fictional Stratford Festival actor.
In addition to Governor-General's Awards for "The Wars" and Elizabeth Rex, Findley was the winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Ontario Trillium Award, and the ACTRA Award (with his longtime partner William Whitehead). He was a founding member and chairperson of the Writers' Union of Canada, and served a term as president of the Canadian chapter of PEN International. In 1986, he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 1991, he was named to the Order of Ontario. He was also a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. Findley and Mr. Whitehead had homes in France and in Stratford. (Findley was briefly married to actress Janet Reid, but the marriage was annulled.)