ELIZABETH: 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
Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, from a screenplay by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, turned out to be more rousingly entertaining than many of its less-than-lukewarm reviews had led me to anticipate. Sure, this Elizabeth is often silly, and is a comedown from Mr. Kapur’s first incarnation of Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen in her more romantic youth, in 1998’s Elizabeth. Almost a decade later, Ms. Blanchett’s talents are still so magical that I can’t resist describing her performance as one that emblazons her Elizabeth with a martial grandeur that no previous screen Elizabeth has approached or even attempted.
For example, an almost comic contrast is established between her maidenly coquettish side-saddle ride with her chosen admirer, Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and her full-saddle and fully armored appearance before her troops on the eve of the ill-fated Spanish invasion of England. She doesn’t have Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with which Laurence Olivier electrified movie audiences as Henry V more than 60 years ago. But Ms. Blanchett makes do with a majestic red wig and a queenly aura of boundless self-confidence.
Actually, the film begins with King Philip II (Jordi Mollà) of Spain placing a curse on Elizabeth I for her Protestant heresy and for her mistreatment of her Roman Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). He vows to bring Elizabeth to account if he has to chop down every tree in Spain to build the greatest Armada of warships the world has ever seen. With his hordes of monks spraying his court with the theocratic incense of the Spanish Inquisition, Philip II serves as an allegorical equivalent of extremists of our own time. I have no idea if this British-made film started out with this contemporary parallel in mind, but it can function for American audiences as a warning against all religious fundamentalists, including our own.
At a time in the movies when good female roles are at a premium, Elizabeth provides three juicy roles for actresses, Ms. Blanchett’s Elizabeth, Ms. Morton’s Mary Queen of Scots, and Australian beauty Abbie Cornish’s Bess Throckmorton, Elizabeth’s favorite lady-in-waiting, with whom the Virgin Queen spends many intimate quasi-erotic moments of royal self-indulgence. Elizabeth is outraged enough by Bess’ dalliance with Raleigh (which leaves her with child) to send them both to the Tower, but she relents when the Spanish Armada is seen off England’s shores, and all ends happily. Special mention should be made of Geoffrey Rush’s reprise of his role as Elizabeth’s canny adviser, Sir Francis Wallsingham.
Mr. Kapur’s restless camera never lingers over any scene or tableau to the point of possible turgidity. Instead, he relentlessly searches for new angles and new chromatic shadings for the ever-changing compositions. I, for one, can report that I was never bored.