Elizabeth: The Golden Age
God save Cate Blanchett. Without her performance, this second history lesson on Elizabeth I's reign would be a little dry.
It's 1585 and Elizabeth Tudor (Blanchett) is well into her third decade as Queen of England, slightly older but just as exquisiteand just as wary of the enemies at her gate. Led by Spain's Philip II (Jordi Molla), a fundamentalist Catholic movement is sweeping 16th century Europe, and they view Elizabeth as a Protestant heretic. Philip and his supporters have rallied round Elizabeth's exiled Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), waiting for their chance to usurp the Virgin Queen's throne and restore Catholicism in England. The queen's trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), keeps the wolves at bay, but Elizabeth is in constant danger. She finds some comfort in the company of her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), as well as the dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), whom Elizabeth sees not only as an intellectual and spirited equal but also as a way to glimpse into the unexplored globe's infinite freedomsomething the Queen can never have. But when an assassination plot goes awry, Elizabeth shifts her energies back to her country, setting off a chain of events that will change the course of history.
Just like the Queen Elizabeth herself, Blanchett is also slightly older but wiser and even more poised and beautiful than she was playing the Virgin Queen the first time in the 1998 Elizabeth. That film helped put the actress on the map and gave her her first Oscar nominationand a second nomination for playing the same character shouldn't be far behind. Blanchett gives this enigmatic queen such flawed humanity. She's all at once regal, sarcastic, knowing, jealous and lovingand above all, a true queen to her people. Although The Golden Age is clearly Blanchett's movie, the supporting cast is also superb, especially Rush, whose aging Walshingham isn't nearly as aggressive as he was in Elizabeth but still formidable, and Owen as the charismatic Raleigh, who clicks in more ways than one with Blanchett. By God, Queen Elizabeth needed a real man and if Raleigh had had any royal lineage, she may have married him. Instead, she has to pawn him off on Bess--played sweetly but blandly by Cornish (A Good Year)--and live vicariously through them, until their union gets the better of her and she banishes them. Elizabeth is a woman, after all. Morton, too, does an admirable job as the doomed Queen Mary, heaving breasts and stoic resolve to her ultimate demise.
As with his original Oscar-winning Elizabeth, director Shekhar Kapur clearly loves the splendor and pageantry of the 16th century royal court and serves up another visual treat with The Golden Age. The costumes are once again spectacular, as are the sets. The battle between the British navy and the Spanish Armada is particularly stunning, especially as a victorious Elizabeth stands on a high bluff, wind blowing, looking into the horizon at a sea of burning Spanish ships. Highly effective. Kapur isn't very subtle in his depiction of the bad guys, either. King Philip is almost Golum-like, walking in a weird way, mumbling and constantly rubbing his rosary beads. At any moment, you expect him to hiss, "My precioussssssss." Creepy. But where Kapur's Golden Age fails is in its pacing. While the first Elizabeth was intriguing in the making of a queen, Golden Age plods through Elizabeth's anxieties and insecurities, even if Cate Blanchett is riveting in almost every frame. Things only really get going when Elizabeth forgets about being a lonely woman and gets her head in the war game. There's also the fact that the masses may have had their fill of historical movies about this time periodfrom HBO's excellent Elizabeth I (which is, in essence, the same story) to even Showtime's The Tudors. Chalk this Golden Age up to bad timing.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.