Friday, 2 November 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Shekhar Kapur
Screenwriters: William Nicholson & Michael Hirst
Running Time: 114 mins
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 2nd Nov

Almost a decade after the 1998 awards behemoth Elizabeth took it’s bow on the silver screen, director Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett have returned with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, chronicling the further adventures of The Virgin Queen. Previously a ten-year sequel wait has been reserved for the likes of Star Wars or The Godfather; in fact it’s rare an opulent costume drama gets a sequel regardless of time. Yet here we are, and with one mightily impressive theatrical trailer to live up to, Kapur is taking us back to the Queen’s court.

In the opening of the film we are told that Spain is the most powerful country in the world and the catholic King Phillip (Jordi Molla) intends to remove the protestant Queen Elizabeth (Blanchett) to pave the way for God’s anointed monarch Mary Stewart (Samantha Morton). As the Spanish threats and assassination attempts mount, Elizabeth also becomes involved with Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) after being informed by her advisor Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) that she must take a husband and produce an heir.

Blanchett relishes the chance to get back under the fineries and don the luxurious wigs as the haughty Elizabeth, and it is a towering performance. “I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me!” she booms after the retreating Spanish diplomats in one memorable scene. Yet she also successfully brings to life to private side of the monarch, away from the roaring maniac she is a gentle and caring person coming to terms with her own mortality. However Blanchett’s talent can only go so far. The frames are filled to bursting point with sumptuous d├ęcor, but this is very much choux-pastry cinema.

Here’s the rub: The Golden Age is a costume drama, a romantic drama, a political thriller, a military epic and a history lesson all rolled into one without the running time to support this multi genre mesh. The costume changes are borderline ridiculous, Clive Owen’s a little too stiff to pull off Raleigh as rouge, and the final battle is over far too quickly. As for history, things go even further off the boil. Spain’s status as global dominating superpower is somewhat of an overstatement and Mary Queen of Scots is little more than a scheming harlot in a tower. King Phillip too is short changed. Instead of a balanced drama between two mighty sovereigns, he is a skulking baddie to Elizabeth’s smirking heroine.

Thankfully, the potential for an engaging allegory about a Holy War between two opposing religions is not missed. The odd smattering of contemporary political dialogue is well thought out, such as Elizabeth stating that she will treat her people equally and not persecute them for rebuffing her own personal religious beliefs. The Golden Age projects an idealised way of dealing with religious conflict for today’s troubled world. Elizabeth deals with Catholic dissent not by harassing all her Catholic subjects but by fighting for the humanity of all as opposed to religious zeal of the few.

Kapur has a wonderful painterly eye for powerful imagery, such as Elizabeth standing on a windswept cliff staring down the Spanish Armada. However he takes things over the top with some flashy camera tricks and even a little bit of Matrix-esque bullet time. Other than borrowing the odd flourish from Peter Jackson, Kapur adds spectacle but very little else to an otherwise standard costume drama. Craig Armstrong’s score too comes from the school of overwhelming musical punch in place of an emotional one. Yet The Golden Age is not by any standard a bad film, it’s just not the great one the aforementioned trailer promised. And other than to give Blanchett another go at her wonderful recreation of Elizabeth it still doesn’t reveal why after ten years they chose to go back to continue this story.

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