Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Directed by Shekhar Kapur

Written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst

Starring Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen


Elizabeth: The Golden Age

In the first "Elizabeth" (1998), also directed by Shekhar Kapur, there is an amazing scene in which young Elizabeth - Cate Blanchett - must address Parliament for the first time. She is alone in her chambers, frightened and almost tongue-tied, and tries out her first line. Then, in a series of quick cuts, she tries it again, and again, and again, each time gaining power and confidence, until by the end of the sequence we see her emerge as the queen she will become. It's an amazing piece of work by Blanchett, and if we needed any more evidence that she is a great actress, we have it there.

Unfortunately there's nothing in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" to match that, or even come close. The film, which conflates her rivalry with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots together with the invasion of the Spanish Armada, and throws in a never consummated love affair with Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), is oddly inert, in spite of Blanchett's power and the events that surround her.

In case you've forgotten, the hated Catholics, who want Mary on the throne, are led by King Phillip of Spain, who will send the Armada to place her there. But Elizabeth has Mary executed and then makes a speech to rally her troops that seems to have come right out of "Henry V" by way of Winston Churchill. And if you recall, the Armada was defeated by a smaller British fleet. But somehow all the drama of the age seems to have been neatly compartmentalized; we're shown Mary's intrigues, we're shown her execution, we're shown the battle of the Armada, we're shown the frustrations of her infatuation with Walter Raleigh, but none of it helps to build the tension of the film itself; it's as though the film was neatly divided into chapters, one after the other, instead of building to a climax.

Having said that, Blanchett is once again a miracle to watch; I would gladly pay to hear her read the telephone book; as an actress she becomes, rather than plays, the role. I don't know anyone else of her generation who can embody her characters to the point where, in this case, whatever the real Elizabeth was like, we now know her only as Cate Blanchett. There is a moment in Tom Tykwer's film "Heaven" where Blanchett, a good and moral widow, having tried to murder an evil man, learns instead that she has been responsible for the deaths of four innocent people; the camera simply stays on her as the implications of her act come to her, one after another; we see them in her face and body as they grow to overwhelm her. Without saying a word, she gives us everything we will ever need to know about this woman. It's too bad that "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" doesn't do her justice.