ELIZABETH THE GOLDEN AGE: Still Captivating
ELIZABETH THE GOLDEN AGE (historical drama)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish and Jordi Molla
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
(pic: Blanchett and Owen as The Queen and Raleigh)
This movie brings director Shekhar Kapur back at the helm, together with Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush reprising their roles as Elizabeth and Sir Francis Walsingham. While the first explored Elizabeth's survival, her love life and the loss of innocence when the prize is absolute power, "The Golden Age" deals with what happens when that power is threatened, and how 'a mere woman' manages to survive pressures from within and outside her country to hold onto it.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is 1585 and England is in turmoil. The Pope has declared a holy war against the Protestant Queen and her country; Spain's King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is building an armada to invade England and return the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) to the English throne; and, domestically, Elizabeth has to contend with political conspiracies and pressures from her advisors, including Sir Francis, to find a suitor and get married.
The first half of the movie sees the queen deftly handling these problems in her usual pomp and grandeur. However, it is the problem of the heart that gets her riled up. This comes in the form of Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) who arrives at her court with two American natives and gifts of potato and tobacco (from Virginia, named after the virgin queen). Elizabeth is inevitably drawn to him, and Raleigh takes advantage of this, including impregnating - and later marrying - her favourite lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish).
HITS & MISSES: The history books has nothing about the 52-year-old queen's romantic designs for the 32-year-old Raleigh, but Kapur takes dramatic licence to suggest that Elizabeth had wanted the dashing Raleigh for herself, culminating in an awesome fit of regal jealousy against Bess. Kapur also rewrites history, having Raleigh lead England's defence against the Spanish Armada, swinging on ropes from ship to ship, and even diving in the Channel. In reality, Raleigh played no role in that famous 1588 battle. Still, the battle scenes offer a welcome respite from the court intrigues and provide the movie with its much-needed action sequences in the second half.
Owen earns his keep as the hero of the sequel while Cornish deserves our sympathy as the suffering Bess who has sacrificed a lot to serve her queen. Blanchett, of course, is as regal and credible as Her Majesty, looking a lot younger than the 52-year-old woman she is playing. Rush has less screen time here. Like in the first movie, the costumes and set designs are a sight to behold - and would surely be considered, come Oscar time.
I am also impressed with Kapur's handling of the Queen Mary saga, according her with royal composure even as she is about to be beheaded, and showing the personal anguish in Elizabeth who is forced to make a decision that would threaten her kingdom. These are some of the performances that would stay in our memories.