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Elizabeth: The Golden Age

An Elaborate Fashion Show

Directed by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Four Feathers, Bandit Queen), the latest offering on the life of England's Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is little more than a linear character study set amidst an elaborate fashion show. With a stellar award-winning cast and a proven, skilled director the film is two hours of wasted potential.

A decade after the original, we meet the Queen (played by Cate Blanchett) again in the year 1585. She's matured and grown into her gowns but she's pretty much the same -- there are people still trying to marry her off, manipulate her or assassinate her. With its famed Armada, Spain is the most powerful country in all of Europe, and is ruled by the devout and fanatically Catholic Philip II (Jordi Mollà), who just needs a reason to wage war against Elizabeth and her "whoring" Protestant ways.

But none of this is the real focus of the film. In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, politics take a back seat to the Queen herself. While she comes off as a just, fair and intelligent ruler, the film explores her human side and the personal sacrifices she makes for the sake of her country. At least it tries to.

When adventurer and supposed pirate Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owens) appears at court trying to gain the Queen's favor, i.e. funding for his next expedition, Elizabeth becomes intrigued. While she cannot publicly converse and interact with him, she dispatches her favored lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton aka Bess (Abbie Cornish), to communicate with him in her place. However, as the Queen becomes more and more infatuated with Raleigh, his own attentions turn towards Bess.

Owens is fascinating and has a great intensity in his eyes that conveys his character's overwhelming conviction. But this is supposed to be about Queen Elizabeth's reign not about her obsessive crush on a roguish hunk. If you want that all you need to do is whip out a smutty historical romance novel. No -- this is supposed to be a historically based drama.

However, there is very little drama to be found in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Writers William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, who wrote the screenplay for Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen, really missed the mark here. Instead of political intrigue, the brewing war between England and Spain and growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants, the movie pays attention to issues of less importance.

It is filled with regal, intricate and…VERY distracting costumes. They are especially distracting because there is little else to keep your attention. Fortunately there is more humor this time around. One particular scene, in which Raleigh introduces the humble potato to court, elicits genuine laughs. Besides the humor, there is also great beauty to the film. Some shots are works of pure cinematic artistry. The scene of an attempted assassination, easily one of the most powerful moments in the film, is breathtaking in its visual intensity; if freeze-framed the individual shots could be seen as paintings. This, of course, is due in part to Cate Blanchett's indomitable on screen presence.

However, the real scene stealer in Elizabeth: The Golden Age is Samantha Morton as Mary Stuart, Elizabeth's cousin, a queen in her own right and rival to the throne. Her performance brings a quiet ferocity to the film and imbues it with a missing gravity. On the other hand, the presence of Geoffrey Rush as the Queen's most trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham adds nothing to the movie. His character is completely, and unfortunately, underused.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age can be summarized quite nicely through one specific scene. In it the Queen, resplendent in one of her gowns, retorts to a threat made by a fuming Spanish ambassador. (It will feel familiar as it is featured quite prominently in the trailer. However, it doesn’t play out in the actual movie quite the same way.) She shows her strength for sure, but it is to the retreating back of the Spanish ambassador, making the whole gesture seem impotent and almost desperate. She is trying too hard, just like this movie.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is essentially an ornate character study. It shows the human side of the Queen -- her neediness, vanity, insecurity and vulnerability -- but it is nothing you don't already know. We've seen it all before in Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen, and to much better results.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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