Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Starring Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush
It’s 1585 and Queen Elizabeth I has occupied the English throne for 27 years, but traitors within her country as well as international political rivals continue to threaten her position. King Philip II of Spain, a religious zealot, is hellbent on returning England and its Protestant Queen to Catholicism, even if it means all-out war. Plotting with the Spanish King to usurp Elizabeth’s crown is the Queen’s own cousin, Mary Stuart the Queen of Scots, under house arrest in England. Meanwhile, back in the Queen’s court, Elizabeth’s advisers continue to pressure her into choosing a suitable husband. But when the explorer Walter Raleigh returns to England, his tales of the New World and its enticing exports (not to mention his charming good looks) divide the Queen’s attentions, making her vulnerable.
But make no mistake, Queen Elizabeth still is a force to be reckoned with.
In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Cate Blanchett returns as the Virgin Queen, the role she played in 1998′s Elizabeth which earned her an Oscar nomination, launching her career. Shekhar Kapur, who directed both films, has said that if he couldn’t persuade Blanchett to return for the sequel, he couldn’t have made the movie. I can see why — she is Elizabeth. It’s Blanchett who carries this film and allows you to turn a blind eye to all those historical inaccuracies.
And there are plenty of those, but that’s to be expected. One thing to remember when going into a film like this is that yes, it’s a period piece, but no, it’s not a documentary — it’s historical fiction. So when nearly a decade’s worth of events is condensed to seem like it occurred in one year, it’s for the sake of brevity and pacing … I suppose. Although, I was a bit peeved that they made NO attempt to age the 38-year-old leading actress to look like the 52-year-old monarch she was portraying. But, this is Hollywood, what can you expect? God forbid a woman on screen should have wrinkles! This is a Queen that reigned til her death at nearly 70, what will they do in five years when they try to make a third movie (and you know they will)? But this is Hollywood and this is a movie catering to American audiences, and whether anyone wants to admit it or not, most Americans could care less for history accuracy (just look at the bullshit written in our history textbooks) and even less than that for seeing a leading actress look older than 30.
My point: let’s take this movie for what it is. A light period piece with superb actors, gorgeous costumes and glorious scenery — as is to be expected of a film like this.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age sets out to show that although Elizabeth was a warrior queen (I’ll get to that in a minute), she’s also a woman — a woman whose needs and wants were second to her duty to her kingdom. Clive Owen is explorer Walter Raleigh, who settles a colony in American he christens “Virginia” in honor of the Virgin Queen. Here’s where those needs and wants come in. Yes, Elizabeth is drawn to Raleigh and is enamored with him, and eventually knights him, but when he falls for one of the Queen’s lady’s-in-waiting, that fierce Queen comes to the surface.
And just in the knick of time, too, because it’s time to go to war!
When the Spanish ambassador threatens her with “a wind coming that will sweep away your pride,” the Queen explodes back with “I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me!” And I believed her! Perhaps the Spanish should have, too.
Soon after King Philip II sends out his armada, waging Holy War on England with the intent to take over the country and place his young daughter Isabelle on the throne.
This is when the “warrior queen” surfaces. Atop a white steed, clad in full body armor with long, flowing red tresses, Elizabeth appears before her army to have her “let’s kick their ass in freedom’s name” Braveheart moment. Ah, you have to love that. While most people will think this is more of that aforementioned fiction, this is actually based on fact. She did go to address her soldiers and it did give them encouragement. I don’t know about the full body armor, but it does make sense. Even though the Queen was not going to the battlefield, she was in an endangered area, so her advisers — who were strongly against her going — would want her to be as protected as possible, hence the armor.
Another totally kickass moment is when the Elizabeth goes all Gandalf — “Let them come with the armies from Hell … they will not pass!” This is the shit!
Back for this installment is Geoffrey Rush, who again turns out a great performance as Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s most trusted adviser and the master of her spy network. Unfortunately, Rush’s screen time has been relegated to make way for Owen’s major role as the Queen’s unrequited love, as well as for Aussie newcomer and Nicole Kidman lookalike Bess Throckmorton as the Queen’s favorite lady-in-waiting Abbie Cornish.
Noticably absent from the cast is Joseph Fiennes as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who played a major role in the first film. If accuracy was an issue here, the character of Dudley would be present during these events, but here, he’s nowhere to be found (I don’t even think his name was mentioned).
The major downfall for the movie really is the embarrassingly intruding and at times comical musical score. In one scene, where Raleigh is melodramatically describing what he’s discovered in the New World to Queen, the score crescendos. But in the middle of his story, someone enters the room interrupting them, and the musics just STOPS. I was waiting to hear a needle scratching off the record! When the person leaves, Raleigh picks up where he left off and the music starts up again the same way! What was supposed to be a captivating moment was totally ruined by the score. The musical intrusions continue throughout the film and at times are even too revealing for the scene.
One other thing: During the battle at sea, why do we have to see horses jumping into the water from the burning ships and then get the view from under the water of them swimming away … IN … SLOW … MOTION … ? What exactly was the point of all that? That really annoyed me. I swear, if you allowed me to cut one thing from this movie, THAT’S the scene that would be in the scrap pile for good, wouldn’t even make it on the extended DVD.
But otherwise, thanks to Blanchett, some suspension of disbelief, and that pretty cool English history, I actually enjoyed Elizabeth: The Golden Age.