ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE succeeded 1998’s acclaimed Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett returning to re-incarnate the immortal Queen Elizabeth I in this 2007 sequel; Geoffrey Rush comes back as her most trusted counselor, again under the direction of Shekhar Kapur, while screenwriter Michael Hirst shares chores this time with William Nicholson. *
England, 1585. Three decades into her rule, Queen Elizabeth I (Cate, 36) still has multiple fronts to fight on. Internationally, the planet’s most powerful sovereign, Spain’s King Philip II (unsung favorite Jordi Mollà), has entire forests turned into ships for an invasion of England. Up north, imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) is poised to take over the crown if yet another plot to assassinate Elizabeth succeeds. At home, Elizabeth is charmed by pirate/patriot/adventurer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), but has secret competition from her trusted, also smitten lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish).
Bigger (thanks to CGI), costlier, it benefits from the acting and some nifty visuals, but the fiction-riddled script isn’t nearly as taut this time, and the director let the music score continually overplay emphasis. Liz’ rally the troops speech prior to the clash with the Armada is one of the weakest examples of its type.
Remi Adefarasin, cinematographer from the first film, is on deck, with a notably different palette, likely influenced by production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and the inclusion of the effects created for the Armada. Those Big Scenes–of fiery battle and heaven-sent, Britain-saving tempest are impressive.
Blanchett’s excellent (of course) and secured another Oscar nomination. Owen makes a charming dasher of Walter Raleigh, kind of a man-of-action/dreamer, Morton does a nice job shading the doomed Mary with a mix of indignation and dignity (the execution scene is very well handled) and Molla’s Philip quivers with intensity. Rush is allowed more room toflesh out his loyal counselor.
Critical pings took after it for a lack of subtlety, for the numerous historical warps and for alleged anti-Catholic bias. The last—mostly coming from torqued quarters of the faith’s zealous officialdom—is pretty rich guilt, considering the tough-love approach Rome’s globe-eaters foisted on countless millions for centuries, not least the Inquisition. The director faced down those pious charges with skill. **
With a hefty price tag of $55,000,000, and lukewarm reviews, it tanked in the States making just $16,383,509, part of a disappointing worldwide gross of $75,782,758. Along with Blanchett’s nomination, the picture handily won an Academy Award for Costume Design. A heroine from Elizabeth’s old rival France took the actress gold, in the form of Marion Cotillard’s stunning capture of Édith Piaf in La Vie En Rose.
The taken-to-woodshed music score was jointly arranged by A.R. Rahman and Craig Armstrong. Scotland’s Armstrong did fine work on such assignments as Moulin Rouge! and The Quiet American, while India’s prodigious, world-renowned Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) is nicknamed “Isai Puyal” (the musical storm) and “Mozart of Madras“. The two talents just don’t jell to the best effect in this film.
With Adam Godley, Rhys Ifans, Eddie Redmayne, David Threlfall, Tom Hollander, William Houston, Charles Brassington. 114 minutes.
* Among novelist William Nicholson’s screenplays are such worthies as Shadowlands, Nell, First Knight, Gladiator, Everest, Unbroken and Breathe. Michael Hirst also wrote the TV series The Tudors and Vikings. Before the first Elizabeth, director Kapur had scored with Bandit Queen, after the success of Elizabeth he struck out with the limp remake of The Four Feathers, then five years elapsed before this second Elizabethan foray.
Blanchett: “It’s terrifying that we are growing up with this very illiterate bunch of children, who are somehow being taught that film is fact, when in fact it’s invention. Hopefully though an historical film will inspire people to go and read about the history. But in the end it is a work of history and selection.”
** One hissyfit example: the movie critic for the National Catholic Register howled “The climax, a weakly staged destruction of the Spanish Armada, is a crescendo of church-bashing imagery: rosaries floating amid burning flotsam, inverted crucifixes sinking to the bottom of the ocean, the rows of ominous berobed clerics slinking away in defeat. Pound for pound, minute for minute, Elizabeth: The Golden Age could possibly contain more sustained church-bashing than any other film I can think of.” For agnostics fed up with God-fearer’s from every corner of the spectrum, that sounds like a heckuva recommendation. As it is, it looks like we’re all destined to end up somewhere hot, anyway. The most vexing question is “When we get to Hell, will we still have to listen to these jerks?”