Mark Reviews Movies

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, Samantha Morton, Jordi Mollà, Rhys Ifans, Adam Godley, Tom Hollander

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, some sexuality and nudity)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 10/12/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

An unnecessary follow-up to the narrative and thematic completion of Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is more of the same but with less insight, intrigue, and intimacy. The high aesthetic values of returning director Shekhar Kapur's 1998 historical drama are in tact here, and screenwriters William Nicholson and the returning Michael Hirst continue to make history more accessible to the masses by focusing on conspiracies, unrequited and jealous love, and wartime politics. There was a lot happening in the first film, and there's more going on here. What made the first film work as well as it did was the way Hirst took and reworked historical facts to suit the rise (or decline, depending on your point of view) of an innocent, love-hungry young woman into a cold, sometimes cruel statue of a queen. Part of the problem here is that Elizabeth I is now that statuesque figure, towering above the seemingly petty concerns of her youth, and our emotional attachment to her is similarly separated. Nicholson and Hirst attempt to shade her with vulnerability and moral ambivalence, but those efforts feel forced in comparison to the scope of events unfolding around her.

The film opens over a decade after the events of its predecessor in the year 1585. Spain is the most powerful empire in the world, and King Philip II (Jordi Mollà), a devout Catholic, is prepared to have open, holy war against England and its Protestant queen Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett). A sickly, green hue surrounds the court of Philip, as he sets in motion a plot within England to overthrow Elizabeth and put in her place Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), whom, although in prison for treason, the Spanish speak of as the English queen in waiting. Elizabeth is still unmarried, and suitors from around the globe are still actively pursuing her. The pirate Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) has returned from the New World with gifts of tobacco, Spanish gold, and natives from the new land he has named in the queen's honor: Virginia. Elizabeth is intrigued by the pirate, whom the Spanish in her court openly despise, and sends her lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish) to learn more about him. Meanwhile in Spain, Philip is assembling a great naval force to take advantage of England's weakened military power and waits for the proper time to strike.

The story hits many of the some notes as the first film with much less success. There's an impossible-to-realize love story between Raleigh and Elizabeth, after the pirate captures the queen's imagination with his description of finding the New World after weeks at sea. There are the never-ending conspiracies against the monarch, seen in hidden correspondences from Mary and Philip. The stakes are apparently higher this time around, with an assassin infiltrating the court and the Spanish ambassador and king merely waiting for any perceived act of war, but they never feel that way. The complex relationship between Elizabeth and Mary is absent. Mary is a power-hungry conspirator, and Elizabeth only feels conflicted about the necessary measures to keep Mary's plans from fruition until it is far too late. Whatever possibility of a love story between Elizabeth and Raleigh exists is sidestepped for an underwhelming love triangle when Bess and Raleigh fall for each other. Even the reason for a potential romance seems a forced attempt to humanize the queen; her desire for Raleigh is intercut with scenes from the first film showing her a happy, naïve girl. Whatever longing for innocent days of old she might have are abstract and never felt.

The cast seems to realize the problems and react by either overcompensating or going along for the ride. Cate Blanchett's performance is big, bold, and brass, a complete turnaround from the subtle nuances of the first film. It's not a bad performance, just different—a reflection of the movie's shift of her character. Clive Owen sometimes appears uncomfortable, and the charms he possesses as an actor are absent. Samantha Morton is sadly underused as Mary, reduced to a conniving villainess, and so is Rush as Walsingham, sent to the sidelines instead of actively scheming in the queen's favor. There's a big, explosive sea battle that has a tone and attitude that's completely out-of-place, and the appearance of an astrologer (David Threlfall) and an unnecessary comic sequence involving a foppish suitor feel the same way. There's just too much happening and not enough depth within those events to warrant the excess of information. The film looks fantastic, though. Kapur once again assembles a fine technical crew to capture the elegance of Elizabeth's court, and most of the time, it's better to admire background decorations, the lighting, and the costumes than to pay attention to the dialogue.

I don't dislike the movie, but I am severely disappointed with it. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is gratuitous on a narrative level (both by following a complete film and in its structure), but the spectacle on display deserves a certain level of admiration. This is more pageant drama than historical speculation.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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