02 March 2008

Elizabeth:The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age A Fine Historical Film
By Kristin Battestella
Cate Blanchett has steadily become the new Meryl Streep-lots of nominations, but few award wins. Although nominated for Best Actress for both 98’s Elizabeth and the 2007 sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blanchett was robbed Oscar gold both times. (In 1998, Blanchett lost Best Actress to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. Strangely, Judith Dench won Supporting Actress for her portrayal of an elder Queen Elizabeth in that film.)
Now Blanchett is the older, wiser Virgin Queen at the forefront of war with King Phillip II of Spain (Jordi Molla). Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is still her tough love advisor, but Lady in Waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish) has become the Queen’s dearest friend. The return of the charming adventurer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) however, forces the Queen to question her circle of advisors and the personal choices she has made.
Without a doubt, this film belongs to Cate Blanchett. Of all the films that have been made about Elizabeth I, Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age are the perfect pair along with Bette Davis’ The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Virgin Queen. Blanchett strikes the perfect blend of opulent, passionate regent and aging, lonely women. She looks the part of the strong chinned warrior queen, yet also appears willowy and pale. Although she has won a Supporting Oscar for playing Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, Blanchett will be forever known for her role here.
Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Australian newcomer Abbie Cornish are fine in their somewhat opposite roles. Rush’s Walsingham is tough in his old age, but is faithful to his Queen to the last. Cornish is charming as the simple lady in waiting who has nothing compared to the Queen, but everything the Queen desires. It’s fittingly eerie to see the two women live through each other. Bess for power and fame, Elizabeth for love and feeling. Clive Owen, although not a miss, is not impressive, either. I enjoyed Children of Men, but I’ve yet to see what makes Owen different from every other well trained handsome Brit. Of course he’s charming as Raleigh-he even delivers the tenderness to match Blanchett, but in a role such as this, Owen could have stolen the show. Instead he is just the new cute guy of the movie, replacing Joseph Fiennes from the original. Whatever happened to him, anyway?
With proper performances all around, I was surprised by the touch of avant garde direction from Shekhar Kapur-the spinning panoramic camera work; the filming through screens, woodwork, curtains; the fading to black and panning to and from walls. It’s a bit dizzying and overwhelming in a film that should speak for itself. Another intrusion into the fine script by Michael Hurst (The Tudors, Elizabeth) is the score by Craig Armstrong. It’s lovely and classical enough, but the music is too obvious in the wrong moments. We get the same booming tune for a panoramic of Elizabeth’s nice gown as we do Spanish Armada action. Go figure. 

The costumes and set design are immaculate and look authentic, as do the fleets and sea battle action. Some of it is no doubt computer imagery, but the blend of real ship sets and cgi scope is just right. I wish there was more on location scenery, but I’m sure things that still look like 16th Century England aren’t easy to come by. One more element I found off was the Divine styled effects. Slow motion moves and sunlight and halo types about the Queen are a bit much for us Americans. We know Elizabeth I was great, really we do. It’s nice to see a proper historical piece about her instead of our Renaissance Faire interpretations. 
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is worthy of historical drama fans or scholars. Young folks might be confused if they don’t know there history, but the sexuality is brief and mild enough for teen viewing. I haven’t seen the first Elizabeth in some time, and one not need see the first film to appreciate The Golden Age. The DVD has plenty features, and naturally anyone who is a fan of Cate Blanchett or the other stars must see this film. Shakespearean and similar period pieces are many, but Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a mature, honest look at Queen Elizabeth and Cate Blanchett. A Must see for history and performance.

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