The sequel to 1998’s Elizabeth continues its exploration of the iconic ruler of England, Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett). It is 1585, and Roman Catholic Spain, led by Prince Phillip II (Jordi Molla) has set its eyes upon Protestant England for invasion, with the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) set to take over the throne and establish Catholic rule in England.
Meanwhile, the still single virgin Queen is urged to marry by her close advisor and confident Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), as she enters a vicious love triangle with adventuring explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and her first lady in waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish).
Not as captivating as the previous film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age suffers from an over abundance of eye candy. Those responsible for the films production design (Guy Dyas) and set decoration (Richard Roberts) such be commended for their work. Yet the way which director Shekhar Kapur and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin captures the rich tapestries of the films production design – along with the movies epic structure and the grandiose score by Craig Armstrong and Eric Fullner – can make for a sickly sweet movie experience, and while there is nothing wrong with feasting on a little cotton candy now and then, some meat and potatoes goes a long way in fulfilling the biggest of appetites.
It is no surprise then to find that the films best and most interesting moments come when Shekhar focuses on the Queen’s personal life. The movies drawcard might be its two Christian denominations at war, yet it is the love triangle between the Queen, her favourite lady in waiting and the adventurer from the high seas which makes the movie.
Blanchett (just like in the first film) excels in the title role, portraying a woman who - whilst possessing a stern authority over her subjects and a robust fighting spirit - contains a stunning fragility brought on by her feelings for Raleigh (played by the striking Clive Owen, who seems to have evoked Errol Flynn and his swashbuckling screen persona), and her increasing age.
Geoffrey Rush also gives a great performance in his reprise as Sir Francis Walsingham, who is also dealing with the fragility of his old age, while also struggling with his role as the Queens closest advisor. Samantha Morton too, is impressive as Mary Queen of Scots.
While the performances keep the film afloat, Kapur’s over indulgent direction and his inadequate interpretation of history comes dangerously close to running it aground. While historical fact is sparsely used in feature movies (Braveheart and The Hurricane are key examples) due to the old chestnut of “dramatic license”, Kapur’s take on this turbulent time in world history deserves all of the criticism lobbed towards him.
The depiction of Sir Walter Raleigh as a swashbuckling adventurer which leads the fleet against the Spanish Amada is a stretch, since it is widely believed he stayed on shore in charge of land defences. Yet Kapur’s biggest flaw is his depiction of the Spanish Catholics, and his insistence in passing over the numerous occurrences which brought on the Spanish Amada.
Prince Phillip II (played by Jordi Molla with all the ham he could muster) is portrayed as a Dracula like figure complete with funny limp. This is no surprise since -much like the first movie- the Catholic element is presented in a dark tone in contrast to the glorious splendour of Elizabeth and her Protestant rule. It is a move by Kapur which defies reality, since neither Protestant nor Catholic can be labelled simply as Good or Evil. No Religion, Government, nor any other organization holds a degree in moral perfection. They are all infallible, just as humanity is infallible. Yet, Kapur - in his three act structure – does not follow this golden rule, and instead presents the Catholics on screen as nothing more than a dark, sadistic cult hell bent on invasion of England based entirely upon religious factors.
A number of key political points as to why Spain sent their Amada are passed over. Queen Elizabeth’s support for the Dutch Republic which had revolted against Spain; the looting of Spanish possessions by the likes of Raleigh; and the attacks on Spanish ports by Sir Francis Drake are key points in every history text book, yet are curiously missing.
Another weakness in Kapur’s direction is the poorly structured and shot battle sequence which reminds more of Pirates of the Caribbean than a film based on historical events. The subsequent Catholic imagery of inverted crucifixes and rosaries falling to the bottom of the ocean only heightens the films anti-Catholicism.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a film with unlimited potential which should have landed Cate Blanchett the Oscar she should have won for the first film. And while there are many wonderful performances, this film is essentially nothing more than a one sided version of history, painted with the broadest of strokes. Blanchett has stated that she hopes the film will encourage people to open up their history books. Many will not like what they read.