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The International Writers Magazine: Film Review

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Director: Shekhar Kapur
starring Cate Blanchette, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush, Abbie Cornish,
Anna-Marie Dover

Have you ever been home alone on a rainy Sunday afternoon, nursing a cold and flicking through TV channels out of boredom? Then you hit upon one of those old Hollywood black and white historical dramas: Bette Davis plays the Queen and Errol Flynn the love interest. There is sexual tension, the hero swashes while the villains buckle, the Queen puts duty before love, "The End" flashes on the screen and the credits roll to tragic-heroic music.
Well, I am not going to say that Shekhar Kapur’s second Elizabeth fits entirely into this category, but despite the dazzling wardrobe, megalithic sets and pleasing photography, this film fails to convince. The screenplay focuses on Elizabeth’s relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh and that is where it begins to go wrong. Although it is quite possible that the Queen liked Raleigh, there is no historical evidence to suggest that she was in love with him, and to make it appear as if he was the only man on close terms with the Queen is misleading. Where are Robert Dudley and William Cecil? Even the Earl of Essex had made his appearance by the time of the Spanish Armada. There are missed opportunities here.

The screenplay gets off to a slow start: in between bouts of queenly flirting with Raleigh there are comings and goings between spies and glimpses of a Spanish King depicted as a religious maniac whose daughter goes around carrying what looks like a voodoo doll of Elizabeth I. The Catholics, always in black, are the villains of the piece although casting could, at least, have found actors who spoke Spanish with credible accents! While we are on accents, Mary Queen of Scots more than likely did not speak with a Scottish accent; she was brought up in France, so chances are that she spoke with a French accent. This was either a concession to the American market or hopelessly idle research.

Although the dialogue fails to sparkle, we get a respectable performance form Cate Blanchett as the lonely queen. Clive Owen’s Raleigh is wooden: we see little of the charisma that is supposed to have charmed the Queen of England and seduced one of her ladies in waiting. The sets are vast and cathedral-like. In fact they are Cathedrals. (Wells Cathedral in particular) Elizabeth and her court spend the film walking up and down what appears to be church aisles, the intimacy of Elizabethan palaces is missing and through this the story becomes rather cold and visually theatrical, rather like those Shakespearean plays that people keep putting on in the great halls of stately homes. The streets of London, the very atmosphere of 1585 is missing, as are the people. This is a scent free, sterile glimpse of English history.

Abbie Cornish as Bess, steals the movie from under Cate Blanchett's nose
Miss Blanchett’s wardrobe is stunning and her make-up excellent. I lost count of how many changes she has, including the rather sexy suit of armour Kapur has her wear as Elizabeth addresses her troops at Tilbury. (A touch of Joan of Arc here but there is no evidence that this ever happened). The battle scenes come a bit too late to enliven this production but give the hero a chance to do his Errol Flynn stuff as we see him swing from the rigging and swim underwater a la James Bond.

Sadly it looks as if we are seeing the return of the overhyped historical romance: Ageless heroines, swashbuckling heroes, big budget wardrobe and an abandoned disregard for historical accuracy.

 © Anna-Marie Dover November 2007

Anna is studying Creative Writing with Languages at the University of Portsmouth

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