The Royal Diaries: Cleopatra VII – Daughter of the Nile
The Royal Diaries: Isabel – Jewel of Castilla
- Historical Fiction
Way back in May, when I posted my first review of the Royal Diaries series, fabulous commenter Claire informed me that three of the books had been adapted into TV-movies by HBO in 2000 and were streaming on Netflix. You can imagine my joy upon hearing this news, especially when I realized I could put the drinking game I’d invented for the books to even better use. I knew right away that it was my duty to review the movies as well. And since, fortuitously, the three books I’ve already reviewed are the three that were adapted for TV, this seemed like the perfect time to do it!* So buckle up, because we are in for a treat.
*I can’t find any explanation about why they stopped making episodes after the first three. My guess is that they read Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, looked at pictures of the actual Palace of Versailles, looked at their budget, and threw in the towel. This is not 2014, Game of Thrones HBO. This is 2000, film-everything-in-Canada-with-Canadian-actors HBO. The world of difference between the two cannot be overstated.
First, a modified version of the Official Royal Diaries Drinking Game (patent pending)!
The Official FYA Royal Diaries TV Drinking Game
Take a sip when:
- When the protagonist narrates a diary entry
- Take two sips if we see her writing it
- Every time a new set location is used (you will not get very drunk on this rule)
- Extreme over-acting (you will get very drunk on this one)
- Somebody says something like “There are dark days ahead indeed” or “We must ride like the wind” entirely without irony
- Something makes you laugh out loud (can be related to any of the above (or the below))
Take two sips when:
- Somebody attempts an accent
- The protagonist visits the marketplace (you’ll be able to tell by the generic ~bazaar~ music playing, and because the Princess will try to buy something obviously from Pier 1)
- Weird sexual tension (Is this just me? Am I a bad person for noticing so much of this?)
- Something actually impresses you, quality-wise
Take a shot when:
- They change the plot to make the protagonist more proactive, or to make things more appropriate for a modern/young audience
- The protagonist says something like, “In the past year, I’ve learned so much…” and it’s been 16 minutes and she’s learned nothing
Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor
Title: Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Number of drinks taken: ~35
Elizabeth is probably the worst of the bunch. This “movie” uses approximately three locations, one of which is a weird circus-tent thing set up on a lawn which is supposed to stand in for the palace gardens, I guess.
The actress cast as Elizabeth, Tamara Hope, has the look down pat, but her accent leaves something to be desired. I had to take something like six sips in the first ten seconds upon hearing her pronunciation of the word “tower,” as in “Tower of London,” which can best be represented phonetically as “TOWAhhhhhhhhr.”
I appreciate HBO’s fidelity to the source material, for the most part: they basically condense the entire book into one 27-minute episode, and translate a lot of Elizabeth’s diary entries into dialogue. This makes for some clunky “as you know, Liz,” conversations, but the quality of the dialogue basically matches the quality of the acting, so it doesn’t exactly stand out. Obviously they had to streamline the plot and they cut out or combine many of the characters. Weirdly, they include Jane the Bald, Princess Mary’s acrobat/fool from the book, but neglect to give her any lines or provide an explanation of who she is/why she’s bald. There’s one scene of her “performing,” except instead of doing cartwheels she just dances, a regular Renaissance-style ballroom dance, but by herself, whilst bald, and at the end the whole court claps. Also, “the whole court” is about ten people. Mostly they seem to stand around and watch the King and Queen eat grapes.
Also included is the scene where Elizabeth swears a “round and bloody oath,” which in the book is implied to be some seriously unmentionable sailor-esque language. In the “movie,” it’s…complete gibberish. Like, Elizabeth actually sounds like she’s speaking in tongues. Turning on the captions doesn’t really help. Liz’s insulting names for Edward are officially transcribed as “wayward boil brain” (okay), “bloody pig mole” (what?) and, my favorite, “You glinken isby!” I tried to Google “glinken isby,” thinking it might be some sort of obscure 16th-century-insult, or maybe just German for “motherfucker.” But either Google didn’t know, or “glinken isby” is so offensive it just wouldn’t tell me. Either way, I’m defs going to try to work it into my conversations as much as possible.
The “movie” unfortch makes it really difficult to swoon over Robin, because the actor looks about ten years old and is roughly a foot shorter than Elizabeth. But he sold a lot of the clunkier dialogue surprisingly well, and he kind of looks like a newsie. Not any specific newsie. He just gave off a certain newsie-esque vibe. As an avowed fan of the 1992 Christian Bale-starring musical, this is pretty much the highest compliment I can give.
Princess Mary, on the other hand, is portrayed as 100% all-out evil, complete with dressing in head-to-toe black and lurking in dark hallways while the camera hovers ominously on her (gorgeous) face. It’s basically Morgana-from-Merlin-style villainy. On the bright side, it did provide my…
Elizabeth accuses Mary of invading her privacy by reading her diary. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Mary says, while clutching Elizabeth’s diary to her chest.
Additional Drinking Game Rule, Just for This “Movie”
Drink every time someone brings up the fact that Elizabeth’s mother was beheaded.
Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile
Title: Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile
Author: Kristiana Gregory
Number of drinks taken: 40+
I enjoyed Cleopatra far more than I expected to. I mean, portraying Ancient Egypt–not to mention Rome at the height of its grandeur–is quite a challenge for any production, but especially for a single TV episode filmed in Canada. Invariably, unless you have a spare $339 million lying around, your sets and costumes are going to end up looking kinda cheesy. That’s how we end up seeing Cleopatra sail to Rome without ever seeing the deck of a ship, or, you know, the ocean. But on the other hand, they clearly splurged for some scenes.
It’s just too bad that whatever zoo they got a two-for-one deal on the camels from didn’t toss in a discount on leopard rentals. Instead of the awesome pet-slash-guard-leopard Cleo has in the book, “Movie” Cleopatra gets a cat. Like, a regular cat. Hilariously, the Cleopatra’s-sister-is-terrified-of-Cleopatra’s-leopard storyline is kept exactly the same otherwise, resulting in a scene where said sister puts out a hit on a housecat.
Thankfully, the main actress (the awesomely-named Elisa Moolecherry) doesn’t attempt an accent of any flavor, but unthankfully, the man playing her father does. He’s playing an ostensibly Greek-speaking Egyptian pharaoh, but his accent hovered somewhere between Spain and Transylvania. Somehow I found him to be the most effective actor in the whole movie.
Which is not to say Elisa Moolecherry (whose resume includes a nationally-mandated stint on Degrassi) wasn’t fun to watch. Girl can smize like nobody’s business.
We’re also 0 for 2 on the swoon with this one. Mark Antony appears in one exactly one scene, and his role probably could’ve been better played by a particularly intelligent brick wall. Cleopatra’s friend Olympus–for whom she’s hinted to have feelings in the book–has the exact same haircut as her, which seems guaranteed to lead to discord. Weirdly, though Julius Caesar doesn’t appear in-person in the book, he does in the “movie,” where he is appropriately Old. (It’s always interesting, in both the books and the “movies,” to see where the writers draw the line between historical accuracy and “appropriateness” for children. Generally, it seems the movies try to clean things up to a greater extent than the books–which makes the ending narration that much more jarring, when we’re informed that Cleopatra married her brother and had a child with the thirty-years-her-senior Caesar.)
As in the book, Cleopatra gets her Daenerys moment when she reveals to the Romans that she does, in fact, speak Latin.
A close runner-up is the scene where Cleopatra has herself rolled up in a carpet and delivered onto her father’s ship–famously the method the real Cleopatra used to get herself to Caesar later in life. I like that they include it here because it makes it seem like hiding in rugs and being carried around is a habitual thing for Cleopatra. It’s a very no-frills approach to traveling, which I admire.
Additional Drinking Game Rule, Just for This “Movie”
Drink every time someone mentions the PROPHECIES. What prophecies? I’m not sure. They weren’t in the book, but they account for 80% of the plot in this “movie.” As in, we can’t do that, because of the PROPHECIES.
Isabel: Jewel of Castilla
Title: Isabel: Jewel of Castilla
Author: Carolyn Meyer
Number of Drinks Taken: 33
Either Isabel was the best of the bunch, or I’d was just too drunk to care by this point. Drastically lowered standards aside, the actress cast as Isabel (Lisa Jakub) is genuinely good. She’s even slightly recognizable, in the “Hey, didn’t she play the daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire? Not Mara Wilson. The other one” way. She actually managed to make Isabel somewhat more likable than she was in the book.
And maybe it was just me/inebriation, but the dialogue in this “movie” seemed much more on-point. At one point, Isabel even says something in Spanish (“Vaya con Dios, Alfonso”) and then doesn’t immediately repeat what she said in English. Which is, again, actually a step up from the book. Accent-wise, only the Archbishop character attempts a Spanish accent, for some reason. But at least he more-or-less succeeds! (Everyone else just sounds American Canadian.)
Isabel spends a long portion of the book pining for her love interest, Prince Fernando, but doesn’t actually meet him until they’re about to be married. She loves him based on reputation alone (and because she’s reliably informed that he’s neither old nor ugly, which for a princess is basically like hitting the jackpot). I guess the “movie” makers decided that would be too ridiculous, though, so Isabel and Fernando meet at the beginning of the movie. Poor Isabel has trouble peeling her orange at the marketplace, but luckily, Fernando comes up and offers her his Swiss Army knife. How helpful! If only every guy who tried to hit on you at the mall was a prince who just happened to be “passing through.” From where? To where? Who cares? Amazing.
When they reunite at the end of the “movie,” they peel an orange together, while a woman narrates their future together–sailing to the New World, waging war against the Moors, establishing the Inquisition…
Isabel and Catalina take a walk in the garden, where they’re overheard by a gardener spy. You can tell he’s a spy because halfway through their conversation, he drops his gardening shears and runs off to blab to Isabel’s brother. Later in the “movie,” the exact same gardener, whom they know to be a spy, finishes up his pruning while listening to another of Isabel and Catalina’s incriminating conversations. Both spy and spied-upon exhibited such idiotic behavior that I momentarily thought I’d stumbled onto an episode of Pretty Little Liars by accident.
Additional Drinking Game Rule, Just for This “Movie”
Drink every time Isabel worries aloud about God’s will, and another character basically responds “Who cares?”
These are fun movies, but probably only truly appreciable to those who have read the books. They’re not good enough to be good, but they’re also not laughingly terrible enough to loop back around to so-bad-it’s-good. On the other hand, drinking games can make pretty much any “movie” enjoyable, even/especially if you’re watching with non-book-reading plebes. So go watch ’em, y’all glinken isbies.
About the Contributor:
Maria Greer is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do…something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.