Elizabeth the 1st has been endlessly studied from all angles. Historians, novelists, biographers and of course filmmakers. Arguably, no one knows as much about the psyche and behavior of Elizabeth than the academy award-winning actress Cate Blanchett. Playing her first in the 1998 film Elizabeth, and continuing her interpretation in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Pic opens in 1585. King Philip of Spain is keen on expanding his already expansive empire. He has set his sights on England, and of course the Queen. Ms. Blanchett fully and completely embodies Elizabeth in her performance. Yes the steely, tough person is present. But Ms. Blanchett carefully and with exquisite timing shows us the vulnerable side of the Queen. She has fears. She is not always confident in her decisions. Like all leaders of the time, she consults her God and mortal wise men. Elizabeth takes in comments and advice from all sides, then makes her decisions. It makes for fascinating character viewing. She is in constant motion throughout the film. Her mind is always turning, and her body keeps pace. This is a woman that thinks best on her feet.
The costumes are opulent, but the lavishness of the film’s look stops there. Elizabeth’s movements are placed in remarkably basic and drab settings. The rooms are enormous, but gray, as the filmmakers save the color for her gowns and hair. It’s a clever choice, and has the effect of giving more weight to the characters.
Period films are always challenged with trying to distill all the nuances of historical fact into a brief two hours. Director Shekhar Kapur does an excellent job of telling the broader story through a strong visual language that animates the script written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst. Students with a sharp eye will find inconsistencies with fact, but this is not a documentary. It’s a dramatic think piece of high order.
Solid acting performances by Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), Clive Owen (Sir Walter Raleigh) and Jordi Mollà (King Philip) as the key men in the story. On the female side, beyond Ms. Blanchett, are Samantha Morton (Mary Stuart) who is positively diabolical as the power hungry Queen of Scotland looking for an upgrade. She really knows how to dress for one’s own beheading. Abbie Cornish (Elizabeth Throckmorton) is the Queen’s favorite assistant. Ms. Cornish evolves her character from naive to confident, playing a pivotal and unexpected role in the Queen’s self-awareness.
Mr. Owen doesn’t quite swashbuckle, but is mysterious, keeping his allegiances and passions close to the vest as he plays on the emotions of both Elizabeths (Queen, and the lady in waiting). Mr. Mollà brings to life a disturbed, religious fanatic King Philip of Spain, complete with a childlike bounce to his gait.
I must admit, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another film on Elizabeth, but from the opening shots, I was completely drawn into the story, thanks to the strong acting and excellent casting, along with outstanding art direction. Remi Adefarasin’s lens is active and fluid when aimed at the Queen. He chooses more of a trapezoid field of view when photographing King Philip. Crisp editing gives the film energy and momentum. Visit the official web site for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Recommended. Also worth going back for a look at Ms. Blanchett’s performance in the Elizabeth from 1998. It opens with a burning-at-the-stake scene that’s the best ever put on film.