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HBO'S ELIZABETH I' REIGNS SUPREME.

Byline: David Kronke Television Critic

Helen Mirren proves, in HBO's miniseries ``Elizabeth I,'' why any actress would kill for a chance to play England's iconic Virgin Queen. It's a full-bodied role that allows a nimble performer to play virtually every emotion the heart has to offer, requiring everything from subtle nuances to full-tilt histrionics.

And Mirren certainly makes the most of her opportunity. She's the chief reason to watch yet another biofilm on Elizabeth, who suffers from no dearth of cinematic reincarnations.

``Elizabeth I'' opens in 1579, when the queen is two decades into her more than 40-year reign, when her leadership is still on shaky ground, her court is still pressing her to marry (she's yet able to bear a proper heir to the throne) and her Protestant country is still imperiled by nearby intolerant Catholic nations.

Her not-so-furtive relationship with Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons) - the production declines to wade into the controversy over whether or not she really was a virgin queen - prevents her from wanting to enter into a loveless marriage. But she can't marry Dudley because he isn't royalty, and anyway, she later learns, he's married, which prods her into considering marrying the French duke of Anjou (Jeremie Covillault).

Meanwhile, her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (Barbara Flynn), may be allying with Catholic conspirators in Elizabeth's assassination, and the Spanish Armada.wants to conquer England.

All this and more comes in tonight's installment. Episode two is a more leisurely affair, beginning a decade later, where her reign is a secure and popular one, and with less to worry about, she's prone to not concealing her friskiness - with Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex and Dudley's stepson. But her self-satisfaction deludes her into ignoring hints that Devereux's attentions may be nothing more than bald ambition.

While the cast in general does good work and the production design is typically ornate, all of that is easy to overlook because Mirren's galvanizing performance defies the viewer to look elsewhere on the screen.

Sterling stuff.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638 david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

ELIZABETH I - Three stars

What: Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons star in this miniseries on the much-filmed life of England's most beloved queen.

Where: HBO

When: Part I: 8 tonight; also 2 p.m. Sunday, 6:15 p.m. Monday, 9 p.m. Tuesday, 11 p.m. April 30. Part II: 8 p.m. Monday; also 9 p.m.

Thursday, 11 p.m. May 1.

In a nutshell: Worth seeing for Mirren's galvanizing performance.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 22, 2006
Words:422
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