The sequel to 1998’s award-winning Elizabeth continues to chart the path of Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett), England’s strong-minded and independent queen, as she prepares to engage the fearsome Spanish Armada in the famous late-16th-century battle that cemented England’s hold on the known world. Like the first film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age boasts strong acting and handsome décor but falters as effective history and drama, largely due to director Shekhar Kapur’s inability to render the historical palette of the time as anything but a lot of pretty costumes and vast set pieces, in effect forcing his skillful cast to try to fill in the blanks missing in the story.
Blanchett's Elizabeth remains a commanding presence, a powerful monarch but also a lonely woman, known as “The Virgin Queen,” who pines for a man to stand by her side. When the dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) comes on the scene, she is drawn to him but resists his appeal, instead pushing him into a romance with her favored handmaiden, Elizabeth (a bland Abbie Cornish). Owen and Blanchett draw sparks whenever they appear opposite each other—not unlike Bogie and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy—but since historical accuracy dictates that they cannot be a couple, the film suffers for its authenticity.
It doesn’t help that the portrait proffered of Spain’s Catholic king, and Elizabeth’s cousin, Philip (Jordi Mollà) is so broad and caricatured. The monarch’s religious fervor is perceived as fanaticism, but England’s Protestant zeal is cast in a more benign, unconvincing light. The movie also takes great pains to avoid provocative and apt comparisons between the repressive actions taken by the Queen’s loyal advisor Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) against her perceived enemies and those of the murderous Spanish Inquisition. By failing to offer a more nuanced picture of Spain, Elizabeth: The Golden Age squanders its chance to paint history in the fascinating strokes of gray that make for the best cinematic epics.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Mollà, Abbie Cornish and Samantha Morton
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Screenwriters: William Nicholson and Michael Hirst
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Jonathan Cavendish
Genre: Historical drama
Rating: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and nudity
Running time: 115 min.
Release date: October 12, 2007