I Blanch at Blanchett! Cate’s Golden Age Is, Alas, Damnably Dull

rex elizabeth2h I Blanch at Blanchett! Cate’s Golden Age Is, Alas, Damnably DullELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
Running Time 114 minutes
Written By William Nicholson and Michael Hirst
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Starring Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton

If ever there was a sequel nobody needs, it’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a dull, picturesque continuation of Elizabeth, the 1998 epic that catapulted Cate Blanchett to stardom as England’s H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth I. Same star in new wigs, same director (Shekhar Kapur, who fails to make up for his disastrous remake of Four Feathers), same rehash of countless television and movie versions of the monarch’s life. (I prefer Helen Mirren, who played her memorably on TV, and Bette Davis, who played her twice on the big screen.) For this one more dance around the throne, prepare for panoply, pageantry and nearly two hours of punishment.

“Boring” is the key word here. Picking up the story in 1585, the perfunctory screenplay by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst finds Elizabeth between a rock and a hard place, struggling for peace and prosperity in a boring clash of empires, caught in a boring web of religious and political intrigue, searching for boring resolutions to the boring cost of power and the boring personal sacrifices made for the good of the nation, and agonizing over a boring unrequited love for Sir Walter Raleigh. Before it drags to an end, there is also a Holy War, and that’s boring, too. Even the Spanish Armada can’t bring Elizabeth into the Golden Age without a yawn.

King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà), a devout Catholic, starts things off by plunging Europe into flames, and only Elizabeth, a Protestant, opposes him. Things grow more sinister when she arrests her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) for treason and orders her execution, inspiring the zealous King Philip to overthrow Protestant England and make her pay—“with her country, her throne and her life!” Meanwhile, there’s the romantic challenge posed by the arrival of Raleigh (Clive Owen)—a sexy, cocky, womanizing adventurer who has just returned from the New World after naming Virginia for the Virgin Queen and bringing gold he has pirated from Spanish ships. Elizabeth is beguiled enough by his impertinence to flirt outrageously, scandalizing the court and feeding the gossip mills on several continents long before the arrival of Hedda Hopper. Before she can lose her head, she loses her heart. When the dashing Richard Todd played Raleigh opposite both Bette Davis and Joan Collins in The Virgin Queen (1955), the raging hormones of a sexually repressed queen who never married and desperately needed a royal heir were nolo contendere. But Clive Owen wafts in and out of the set pieces, wasted, dispensing 16th-century homilies like “We mortals must die, but we, too, should have the chance to love.” Enemies come and go without explanation. One revenge plot follows the next without impact. Dialogue drones on without wit. Then, when the roguish object of her affection has the moxie to impregnate her favorite lady-in-waiting (pretty Australian actress Abbie Cornish, seen recently as Heath Ledger’s burned-out junkie girlfriend in the depressing Candy), Elizabeth banishes them both from the court in an uncontrollable rage. Finally, Ms. Blanchett comes alive when she releases the jaguar from its cage, raging and shrieking at the two people she mistakenly thought she loved unconditionally. When the icy queen thaws, she becomes a vulnerable woman at last—jealous, betrayed and hurt on a deeply human level—and the movie comes to life as well. Alas, it’s still not over (we’ve still got the Armada sailing down the Thames and that computer-generated war to get through, which gives Ms. Blanchett a chance to don a suit of armor and march through the flames like Joan of Arc) but at least we’ve seen some of the cinders that have kept the star’s reputation aglow since the 1998 original.

The rest of the time, she smokes her pipe in bed, tinkers with astrology, races the wind on horseback with her orange hair flying, and acts like she’s reprising her Oscar-winning role as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. It is several years since we left Ms. Blanchett in her brocaded Elizabethan finery at the end of Elizabeth, and the sequel is set in the 27th year of her reign, when she was 52, yet Ms.Blanchett looks decades younger than everyone else in court. This is a problem that persists throughout. In fact, my caveat is that everyone looks too contemporary for the historic roles they play. I got the uneasy feeling Clive Owen had a wad of Nicorette gum parked behind his ear during every take, and when Samantha Morton looks up at the executioner’s axe before her head rolls, I could not resist the notion that she was checking out the tea trolley.

All told, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a short view of history, overwhelmed by a shrill, cacophonous musical score, a pointless jumble of images that fail to connect and a tiresome script too modern for its own good. Hopefully, this is the last of a historic montage going nowhere. I dread the thought of an Elizabeth franchise.