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Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature commentary by Director Shekhar Kapur; Deleted scenes (8:42); The Reign Continues: Making “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (11:19); Inside Elizabeth’s World (7:21); Commanding the Winds: Creating the Armada (12:01); Creating the towers, courts and cathedrals (10:41).

SHEKHAR Kapur describes all history as interpretation, which may go some way to explaining why Elizabeth: The Golden Age appears to take so many liberties with the history it depicts.

But while this sequel certainly puts forward some intriguing possibilities about a key period in “The Virgin Queen’s” reign, and features another excellent performance from Cate Blanchett in the title role, it ultimately undermines the movie as a whole and opens it up to easy criticism.

It’s 1585 and, having reigned over England for nearly three decades, Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) continues to face bloodlust for her throne and the lingering threat of familial betrayal. Spain’s ruthless King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is preparing his Armada to sail against the English, while Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) is scheming an assassination attempt.

Preparing to defend her Empire, Elizabeth also struggles to balance ancient royal duties with an unexpected vulnerability in her love for intrepid explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), a man she knows she will never be allowed to have.

Kapur’s epic certainly takes on a volatile period in the monarch’s life and is notable for its alarming parallels with contemporary issues. Catholic Spain could easily be viewed as a metaphor for religious fundamentalism with Blanchett’s Elizabeth an advocator of democracy over extremism.

But while there’s a keen sense that history does indeed repeat itself, Kapur sometimes feels like he’s manipulating the past for his own mystical message making.

Performance-wise, the film is anchored by another masterly turn from Blanchett whose Elizabeth – although younger than she was when the events actually unfolded – is clearly a woman coming to a period of acceptance in her life. Her portrayal combines elements of self-doubt and self-recrimination with the stubbornness of a woman who needed to appear strong for her people and she’s magnetic whenever on-screen.

Geoffrey Rush, reprising his role as Walsingham, is also good value, as is Abbie Cornish as Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting who eventually proves irresistible to Raleigh. But there’s not enough of Morton to make Mary, Queen of Scots a credible threat and the likes of Jordi Mollà and Rhys Ifans seem content to overact as the villains.

Visually, The Golden Age works hard to maintain an epic sense of grandeur and Kapur makes good use of locations such as Winchester and Ely Cathedrals but there’s a sense of budget limitations kicking in during the climactic Armada tussle that also upsets the momentum. The sight of Clive Owen’s Raleigh in the thick of the battle is certain to sit uncomfortably with history buffs as well.

Incredibly, when Blanchett and Kapur last united for the original Elizabeth nine years ago, the film garnered six Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Actress) and one win (for make-up). It’s an achievement unlikely to be replicated by The Golden Age, which fails to stand up to scrutiny and leaves an overwhelming sense of disappointment.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 54mins
UK DVD Release: February 25, 2008