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Film Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007; Directed by Shekhar Kapur)

Elizabeth was a frothily energetic portrait of a beguiling, likable young woman grappling with the harsh and complicated realities of becoming a ruling monarch, but its overwrought and grandiose sequel works busily to put the hard-won humanity of Cate Blanchett’s iconic heroine on an impossible mythical pedestal. It’s a statement to Blanchett’s unique gifts that her Virgin Queen remains complex and deeply human, but the film around her rarely does her any overt favours.

We are not at all perturbed by the likelihood that Guersney can see up Our skirts.

Director Shekhar Kapur, who also helmed the widely-loved 1998 film that launched Blanchett to international stardom, lays on the visual language of the historical epic as thick as lacquer, and the unreal sheen that results often impresses. It’s an unconscionably lavish film, with its Oscar-winning costumes and massive cathedral spaces, to say nothing of the CGI recreation of the Spanish Armada. With his locations, Kapur often attempts to dwarf his characters’ history-making destinies with the stony sublimity of centuries-old architecture, shooting them from high cloisters largely obscured by flying buttresses. But he contradicts himself, flattening multi-faceted human beings into mythic archetypes at the same time as he tries to diminish their heroic qualities.

Cate’s got Elizabeth down by now, for sure. But Kapur steals away much of the sympathy the Queen earned in his first film about her by the climax of The Golden Age, where he constructs her as some Holy Angel of Albion, a mystical earth-mother single-handedly willing the sea to swallow her enemies. Clive Owen, an actor of unbending talent who needs only a hint of interest on which to build compelling romantic heroes, is reduced to a one-dimensional poetic dreamer-adventurer. His Sir Walter Raleigh is a seabound Rhett Butler with poofier pants. Geoffrey Rush’s Sir Francis Walsingham, a ruthless backroom force in Elizabeth, is here mired in a sappy subplot and bequeathed a tacked-on deathbed scene. Elizabeth’s Spanish foe, King Philip II (Jordi Mollà), is turned into a nastily Othered zealot, a stalking, Inquisitorial creep muttering about God’s will in dark palaces where everyone (inexplicably) wears black. Perhaps most successful amongst the supporting cast is Samantha Morton as Mary Queen of Scots, who never really says anything of consequence but vibrates with a mix of self-righteousness, wounded pride, and prim privilege at all times.

Of course, she also wears black, as do all around her, a stark contrast to Elizabeth’s shining court of white. However historical the opulence might be, there’s a lurking Manicheism to the colour palette that is markedly disappointing. One final comparison can thus be made between this film and its predecessor. If Elizabeth was a film of its time, a late-’90s historical-fiction fable of political intrigue and hopeful ascendancy, then The Golden Age is also a film of its time, a War on Terror allegory of stark moral absolutes set in WASPy homeland besieged by swarthy religious extremists hell-bent on destruction. And one can’t help but be disappointed by that.

Categories: Film, History, Reviews
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