ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
When watching 1998’s Elizabeth, there is always the sneaking suspiscion that what you are watching is not incredibly close to history. You tend not to notice or care, because you are so enthralled by what was one of the greatest studies of character that decade. Nine years later, we watch Elizabeth: The Golden Age and we do not walk away with that same impression. This film is less intelligent, less elegant, and without all the charm that was present in the first one. Not that a sequel should be expected to be anything spectacular, but there seems to be an element of disappointment with this film. They could have done much better.
The three main people of the original film come back for this one: director Shekhar Kapur, and actors Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush reprise their roles as Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Walsingham, respectively. The film begins proclaiming the power of the Spanish Armada, and the fears of death threats toward the queen. On the other hand, Elizabeth still has to deal with the issues of being without a male suitor, and being the “virgin queen”. During a series of suitors that sweep in and out of the palace (a scene which seems like something out of a bad romantic comedy) in strolls Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen).
We have to dispel the fact the Queen would have been well into her 50’s at the time this film is set (circa 1585), and Raleigh would’ve been around 32. Instead, Elizabeth is made to be young and glowing, creating the intrigue between her and Raleigh that takes up most of the plot. The film revisits a theme that was in the first film: that the supreme and authoritative job of being queen England can be quite a drag on your sex life. That seems like a crude statement to say, but this film is so robust, and lacking of humanity, it leaves it victim to that kind of remark.
Anyway, the film chronicles the Queen’s struggle with death threats and attempts of murder at the hands of the fanatically Catholic Spanish who see her as a husband-less leader of a godless country (AKA protestant), and then also having to deal with Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton). And all the while, she has to deal with the pain that she’ll never be able to be with Raleigh, no matter how much she yearns for him (though he loses no sleep going after her patron). And who wouldn’t love the Raleigh who’s pictured in this film, as a swashbuckling, manly gentleman, who even has a seen where he swings on ropes during naval battle.
All that aside, what is so disappointing about this movie, is the lack of substance. This film is filled with such vast, sparkling sets and flawless costumes, it’s no wonder there seemed to be no substance within the humanity of the characters. How can you portray a character appropriately when you’re busy worried about scuffing the ruffles around your neck? The movie is pretty beautiful to look at, but a film with such talent in it’s cast could afford to add more depth to the story. The director Shekhar Kapur takes the elaborate art direction that he had in his first film and compounds on it so much, that all we are left with is a spectacle of great cinematography and empty humanity.
That being said, the film is not unwatchable. The brightest star within this movie is Blanchett. While watching this movie, I came to realize that she has separated herself as the most prolific and skilled actress in the movies today (knowing that she is spot-on here playing Elizabeth, and is already getting honored for a performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There is astonishing in it’s own right). Like she did in the first film, she commands the screen. She delivers the lines with power. Her yearning after Raleigh seems sincere, even if the concept of the love between them doesn’t. Nothing that happens in the movie makes you doubt that she is the authority, even as you see her lost in the inches of Elizabethan make-up.
Rush’s return to the role of the devilish, conniving Welsingham is one met with great nuance. He’s the Al Neri, so to speak, to Elizabeth I’s Don Chorleone. The role is so shrouded, and violent it’s impossible to believe that he spent these two films on the protagonist’s side. Morton’s portrayal of Mary “Queen of Scots” is also very commanding, though she is much less demonstrative than Elizabeth (perhaps because she doesn’t have to deal with the hackneyed Hollywood love triangle). What Morton shows is something a lot of film lovers already know about her, that she is probably the greatest actress of today that nobody ever talks about.
The Golden Age’s downfall is in it’s misguided filmmaking. It’s amazing that so many people were able to take part in this project without seeing the holes left behind in almost every scene. It’s disappointing to see a film filled with such acting talent essentially twist in the wind of creativity. The power is in the performances, and the weakness is in it’s human story. When you end up with that kind of lop-sided result, you end with a sloppy, so-so film.