Elizabeth: The Golden Age
"Overblown" would seem to be an appropriate description for this Armada saga. Not exactly a sequel, but a follow up to Shekhar Kapur's successful 1998 biopic, this picks up the story in 1585.
The Virgin Queen (Cate Blanchett) is still astride the throne of England, busily fending off unsuitable suitors from the courts of continental Europe, but there's trouble on the horizon: King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla) has amassed a formidable fleet is itching for an excuse to cross the channel and crown a good Catholic.
North of the border, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton) is the focal point for conspirators, and Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is not alone in his opinion that Elizabeth would do well to be rid of her.
Meanwhile the Queen is distracted from the affairs of state by the arrival of dashing Walter Raleigh, bearing tobacco and potatoes. Raleigh (Clive Owen) makes a stir when he throws his cape under the royal foot. Hardly oblivious to his charm, Elizabeth sends her prettiest lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish) to court this courtier in her stead…
Reuniting most of the creative team from the previous film, including screenwriter Michael Hirst (with a rewrite by William Nicholson), director Kapur, DP Remi Adefarasin and of course the antipodean axis, Blanchett and Rush, Elizabeth: The Golden Age should have a lot going for it. After all, this period is one of the most turbulent and significant eras in English history.
Somehow, though, it wasn't quite melodramatic enough for the filmmakers, who ramp up every episode with such bombastic zeal it's as if they wanted to turn it into a Saturday morning serial with a cliffhanger coming every 20 minutes.
To be fair, Kapur and co are obviously intent on amplifying the contemporary relevance of the story. We've barely sat down before the opening text hits us with buzz-words like "superpower" and "Holy War". There's much talk of terror, and state repression (Liz graciously rejects a proposal to curtail her Catholic subjects' liberty because "Fear creates fear"), sovereign immunity from prosecution, and other topics that might have been torn from the editorial pages of today's newspapers.
It's a legitimate approach in as far it goes, and it's worth remembering that ER's contemporary Mr Shakespeare wasn't averse to meddling with the historical record as it suited him.
Surprisingly, Hirst and Nicholson have resisted the urge to throw the playwright into the mix along with the kitchen sink, although they do seize the opportunity to indulge in some spirited cod-Shakespearean rhetoric: the Queen seems to be channeling Olivier in Henry V as the armada looms on the horizon and she slips into a shiny silver suit of armour (at times the movie feels like a one-woman fashion parade).
The movie's strongest card is spectacle. There's no shortage of pomp, and the art direction lays on such splendour the camera seems dizzy with excitement - or maybe that's just Kapur's weakness for vertiginous top shots. Adefarasin is always looking for the imaginative set up, which makes the whole thing an eye-full… but the relentless unmotivated tracking shots, the overbearing score, the exclamatory performances… Methinks this flick doth protest too much.
Raleigh's late surge into all-out action hero mode seems like it might have been pasted in from Pirates of the Caribbean. And while la Blanchett glowers, fences, sulks, and steels her way through every scene with the magnificent aplomb we have come to expect of her, the film's broad strokes don't allow her any depth.
I don't mean to sound too negative, but it's hard to hear yourself think with Kapur's sturm und drang ringing in your ears. Tosh can be fun, as long as you know that's what you're getting.
Titles related to this article