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Elizabeth: The Golden Age
(No longer in theaters)
Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Jonathan Cavendish
Oct 12, 2007
There was little new in Elizabeth (1998), but the movie had a ripe theatrical conceit that perfectly suited the flamboyant Cate Blanchett. In the face of all the feverish plots and counterplots and religious mania and persecution, the daughter of Henry VIII made a decision to set aside her human longings and become a symbol to stabilize her country: the Virgin Queen. Very tidy, very satisfying, even if Shekhar Kapur’s direction was short on dash. Elizabeth: The Golden Age (the title makes it sound like her Nelson Riddle period) is an unholy mixture of the banal and the bombastic. It’s 1585, and two crises confront the aging queen: The bonkers Philip II (Jordi Mollå) wants to conquer England in the name of the papacy and builds himself an armada, and the wolfishly handsome, unshaven upstart Clive Owen keeps hanging around the court and gumming up Elizabeth’s determination to maintain her divine purity. (Samantha Morton as a loopy Mary, Queen of Scots, is in there somewhere.) Owen plays Sir Walter Raleigh, of do-you-have-him-in-a-can fame, and while Liz waffles, Walt takes up with her cutie-pie lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish). If I were Sir Francis Drake, I’d be pissed off at how the movie makes Raleigh the swashbuckling fireboat-launching hero of the big battle. Of course, that armada isn’t much to write home about: It’s a CGI economy job with inserts of cannons firing and probably the same 30 or so extras dodging flaming mizzenmasts. Elizabeth tells a foreign suitor, “I pretend there is a pane of glass between me and them and they can see me but cannot touch me,” and so Kapur often shoots her behind wavy glass. Blanchett drops her voice, stiffens her cheekbones, sends out daggers with her eyes, and rises above the mess—locked in her own battle with Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, and the armada of other Elizabeths that keep her on guard.