ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGEPG-13
In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Cate Blanchett once more tackles Britain’s dynamic queen, a character she played nine years ago in Elizabeth. For me, the definitive Good Queen Bess will always be Glenda Jackson in her monumental 1971 TV miniseries Elizabeth R, in which her febrile intelligence and pugnacity were perfectly channeled. That said, Blanchett runs her a very close second, with Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Virgin Queen (1955)—a question of her exterior mannerisms, however effective, holding sway—pulling third place.
Blanchett’s work in the first Elizabeth was impressive but a tad callow, a sketch more than a human fulfillment. Here, like Davis in The Virgin Queen, she has really grown into the part and has a magisterial ease which is both convincingly queenly and supremely ingratiating. Her voice has deepened and acquired daunting power, and she’s a haughty, naughty delight dismissing the various hapless royal suitors who have come from all over the globe to woo her. Later, in her scenes with Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), she is deeply moving in what could easily be highly clichéd moments of “I’m a queen, but I’m a woman, too!” It’s a full-scale star performance in every sense—immeasurably helped by Alexandra Byrne’s magnificently architectural, bewildering array of costumes—and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Helen Mirren last year, Blanchett walks away with an Elizabethan Oscar.
Director Shekhar Kapur mercifully soft-pedals the grating Godfather-like violence he over-employed in Elizabeth to “enliven” historical episodes. The threatening invasion of the mighty Spanish Armada is the dramatic centerpiece of the film, which provides plenty of outlets for Kapur’s blood-and-thunder penchant, as does all the conniving intrigue going on in Elizabeth’s court, replete with gory moments of torture presided over by Geoffrey Rush, happily reprising his role of Sir Francis Walsingham, ruthless advisor to the Queen. Much more might have been made of the intriguing tale of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), the cousin Elizabeth had executed for royal plotting. Morton is fully up to the part, but Kapur gives us her story in dribs and drabs, preferring to concentrate—unsurprisingly—on her beheading, over which he lingers with salacious glee.
At one point, Kapur has Blanchett morphing into Joan of Arc, in full armor, astride a white horse, encouraging her troops to battle, the very image of an inspirational Britannia. The fact of such an episode is highly doubtful, so if the director wanted to play fast and loose with history, for dramatic effect he also might have included a fierce confrontation scene between the two Queens, although they never actually met.
Owen has a fit, Errol Flynn dash as Raleigh and has an impressively starry moment when this great sailor of the seas describes the allure of voyaging with a faraway look in his eyes that captivates his Queen. (It’s interesting to note—perhaps in the desire not to mar the film’s triumphant happy ending—that the filmmakers omit any mention in the written epilogue of his eventual beheading by Elizabeth’s successor, King James.) Jordi Mollà has a handsome authority as Philip II, Elizabeth’s great Spanish rival in the quest for world domination. Technical credits all the way down the line are solid and the entire project makes one yearn to see a wrap-up film of Elizabeth’s final years, with her doomed relationship with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, et al.