'Shameless' star is cast against type to play Virgin Queen

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She has played a working-class Mancunian, an Irish rape victim and an alcoholic fantasist - now Anne-Marie Duff is to follow a long line of stars by playing Elizabeth I.

She has played a working-class Mancunian, an Irish rape victim and an alcoholic fantasist - now Anne-Marie Duff is to follow a long line of stars by playing Elizabeth I.

The Bafta-nominated actress was chosen to play the Virgin Queen in a new four-part BBC1 drama, to be shown next January, following a lengthy casting process, in which the Hollywood actress Claire Danes was also considered for the part.

Duff, who achieved critical acclaim playing the feisty Fiona in Shameless, Paul Abbott's award-winning drama about a dysfunctional family living on a sink estate in Manchester, faces the challenging task of playing Elizabeth I from her teenage years through to her death at 70.

Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen, written by Paula Milne, whose credits include The Politician's Wife, Mad Love and I Dreamed of Africa, portrays the complex nature of a national figurehead who was not only a queen, but also a politician, general and vulnerable woman.

Duff said: "What's so interesting about Elizabeth is she's more than an historic figure, she's a fictional character in that everyone has a notion of what they think she was. It's completely different to anything I've done before. It does feel a bit like I'm at the foot of Mount Everest.

"Elizabeth is an enigma. She's a fantastic female role model. Her intelligence is a vital characteristic and she is incredibly sensual. She has a lovely duplicity of strength and courage and yet being fearful and impetuous."

Henry VIII's second daughter is about to enjoy a television revival, with Helen Mirren also set to play Elizabeth I in a Channel 4 drama focusing on the second half of her life.

Duff, who appeared opposite Mirren in Collected Stories at the Haymarket Theatre in 1999, earning an Olivier nomination, is following in illustrious footsteps. Sarah Bernhardt played the Virgin Queen in the 1911 silent film The Loves of Queen Elizabeth. Bette Davis played Elizabeth twice - in 1939 and 1955.

More recently, Cate Blanchett starred opposite Joseph Fiennes in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, while Dame Judi Dench played her as worldly older woman in Shakespeare in Love.

Ewa Radwanska, director of content at Power Television, which is making Elizabeth jointly with the BBC, said: "Paula Milne has done a beautiful job of portraying Elizabeth in every sense - as a woman, as well as a monarch, politician and general - this most amazing personality in English history.

"The detail of her characterisation is extraordinary. She will come alive in a way that I don't think she has ever done before."

"We chose Anne-Marie Duff after a long search. It was very difficult to find what we thought would be the right person. She has to have enough strength and power to pull off Elizabeth the queen, but also to portray her vulnerability as a woman and a Protestant."

Duff has just finished a run playing Mona, one half of an alcoholic Irish couple in Sixties London, in Owen McCafferty's critically acclaimed stage adaptation of Days Of Wine And Roses at the Donmar Warehouse.

In The Magdelene Sisters, Peter Mullan's film about the cruelty of the Catholic Church towards unmarried mothers, Duff played a girl who is raped by her cousin.

BBC1's Elizabeth is about to start filming in locations around England. "We're very keen to put England on the map. We'll be doing a lot of location-shooting around the country that will give it a very special feel," said Ms Radwanska.

Screen Queens

Sarah Bernhardt

The first screen portrayal of the Virgin Queen was by the French actress in the 1911 silent filmThe Loves of Queen Elizabeth. It told the story of Elizabeth's relationship with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Bette Davis

The Hollywood legend played Elizabeth twice, first in The Private Lives of Elizabeth Essex in 1939, opposite Errol Flynn. In 1955, she reprised the part in The Virgin Queen, which told the tale of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Glenda Jackson

The actress turned MP took centre stage in the 1971, six-part BBC series Elizabeth R. She repeated the performance in a film of the same year, Mary Queen of Scots.

Miranda Richardson

Richardson provided a comic interpretation of Elizabeth I in the 1986 sitcom Blackadder II, which portrayed the monarch as an imperious, overgrown schoolgirl.

Dame Judi Dench

In Shakespeare In Love, Dame Judi played an older Queen Elizabeth alongside Gwyneth Paltrow.

Cate Blanchett

In Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth, the Australian actress played the young queen facing the threat of rebellion and engaged in a love affair with Joseph Fiennes' young Robert Dudley.

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