Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cinematic Royal: Jordi Molla as King Philip II

From my own experiences the film “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” has elicited extreme reactions from everyone save the critics, most of whom shrugged it off as blunt and lackluster. Others, however, either adamantly love it or hate it with few feelings in between. For those who love it, the primary motivation is the English triumphalism on display and the very sympathetic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, one of, if not the, most celebrated monarchs in English history. However, I want to take a minute to look at the part of the villain of the movie; King Philip II of Spain.

In short, I thought the role was atrocious. Catalan actor Jordi Molla was given the part and played it well (he is a talented actor which few would deny) but the figure on screen had seemingly nothing in common with anything we know about Philip of Spain. The casting of Molla seems an odd choice. I have often heard that, an actor must have sympathy for his character, even if a villain, to play the part well. In this case, based on the interviews he gave, Molla seemed to have nothing but contempt for his character and that seems to show on screen but is also, perhaps, not surprising coming from a liberal actor who does not seem to have much respect or affection for the two things that King Philip loved and respected above all else on earth; namely Spain and the Catholic Church.

Philip II is portrayed as such a one-dimensional character as to be downright cartoonish. Flanked by whiskery monks and constantly clutching a rosary he creeps about his castle alternating between shouts and whispers calling his enemy a “whore”. He shrinks back from sunlight and is ever in the shadows and always dressed in black. Designed to be the picture of a religious radical he is constantly using the words of a crusader but takes his spiritual direction from a candle in his room; if it burns calmly upright God is pleased but if it flickers God is angry. Obviously it would not take an extremely intelligent person to realize that simply shutting the windows would ensure everlasting Godly favor using this method of divination!

Then there is the numerous historical inaccuracies, made, I suppose, to simply add to the villainy of the character, but all quite untrue. Philip was not flooding England with assassins and the whole myth of murdering priests has really become tiresome and should be put to rest. Even when something accurate is shown; such as the extent to which Spain was deforested to build the “Invincible Armada” one wonders whether this was done for the sake of accuracy or simply as another way of vilifying Philip II by portraying him as being an anti-environmentalist! On the whole, even if their aim was to make Philip look as evil as possible they still failed. The portrayal was so simplistic, so one-dimensional that he comes off looking more silly than truly threatening.

The movie was meant to be a glorification of Elizabeth I of England and fair enough. But it should not be necessary to slander the name of Philip of Spain to glorify Elizabeth of England. Consider if the shoe were on the other foot? For Spain, the reign of Philip II was their “Golden Age” to a large extent and at least somewhat today and certainly before the wave of liberalism and secularism crashed in Spain the memory of King Philip II was honored just as much and as fervently by the Spanish as the memory of Elizabeth I is in England.


  1. Filipe II of Spain (I of Portugal) was the first non-portuguese king portgual had in many centurys.
    He inherited the Portuguese Empire after the death of Henrique I, the Cardinal-King.

    I, as many as most portuguese history lovers and monarchists, cheerish the memory of good king Phillip.
    But i will not say the same when it comes to his son and grandson.

  2. There's at least some cause to believe that the good King Philip might well have agreed with you on that score...

  3. "Filipe II of Spain (I of Portugal) was the first non-portuguese king portgual had in many centurys."
    actually, Felipe II had more Portuguese than Spanish blood, as was the son of Isabel of Portugal and his matrilineal descent is almost exclusively Portuguese.

  4. Elizabeth was made for the narrow minded folk, for the simple minded and one dimensional people who can't stand the facts and if the argument does not go their way they usually say "entonces este es bueno todos son malos" for them it is or not, they can't grasp taht history was complex and real life is no good, it is, in fact in the 16th century most of the "religious" figure we admire, were not so religious and were pragmatic, Philip was one of them.

    Not that I am saying everyone who saw Elizabeth was narrow minded, many were misinformed myself included and went to the movie theater with much enthusiasm when this movie came out, first with my dad then with my friends, but I will admit though at the time had no virtual knowledge of Philip except what I heard, he was evil, and everything against what "Good Bess" stood for, I remember myself and my friends saying, come on he could not have been that much of a freak!

    But I agree with Mad Monarchist, the way he was portrayed was like a terrible cartoon villain, and his appearance, no, just no! Philip looked nothing like that in real life, in fact what they did on the movie was something Hollywood has done through out decades, even in "Anne of a thousand days" (don't get me wrong great movie, but some actresses just did not fit the physical appearance of the real historical characters) you have Greek actress Irene Papas as Katherine of Aragon being portrayed as Dark, as naive almost and resentful, with raven hair, brown almost black eyes and her hood is almost Flemish, when she should have been seen wearing gabble hoods more.
    Jordi Molla he does have an appeal, but from the movie and his daughter, they were all black haired, and dark appearances as if to perpetuate the racial stereotype that ALL Spaniards are like that. Hollywood it seems loves to do that and not just with Europeans but you see it with a lot of minorities that are also made into villains.

  5. Let's not forget that physically Philip and Jordi are polar opposites being the former is a redhead with blue eyes!

  6. My problem with both of the "Elizabeth" films was anti-Catholic bias, with Catholics depicted for the most part as being evil, plotting, etc. Henry VIII ripped England away from centuries of cherished religious traditions and lined his pockets in the process. The English people did not at first follow quietly. His son followed suit, destroying even more. Elizabeth presented herself as taking "middle ground" but Catholics were still denied freedoms under her. Is it any wonder that Catholics resented what had happened, thanks to these Tudors? Mary Tudor in one of the films was depicted as a near idiot. During her reign, she had some 200 people executed. Her father had some 60 to 80 THOUSAND people executed, yet it's Catholic Mary who's called "bloody". Bias all around.


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