3.5 out of 5 Stars
I will start this review saying at the outset that I am a big fan of director Shakhar Kapur. Certainly, he is one of my top five favourite film directors. I would also say that I am a huge fan of the work of Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett by far has the most incredibly spot-on portrayal of Elizabeth I on film. I will also say that I am an Elizabethan / Tudor history fiend, and I left the film rather unfulfilled. Kapur, with three times the budget he had for the last film, really has underscored that when a director is hungry, he really can stretch his abilities to make a low budget film far better and appear much larger than it truly was in real life. Other than some very ridiculous non-period costumes on Cate Blanchett and alot of CGI for the Spanish Armada, there really wasn’t alot to show for the money spent in making the film.
What perplexed me about this film is how so much of history could be ignored in lieu of a half-hearted plot that pandered to the sensibilities of Hollywood. If you watched the five minute long trailer on yahoo.com in their movies section, you would have gotten the major portion of the premise of this film, because outside of those highlights there is really not much more that was notable. I have spent the last couple of weeks pouring over Susan Ronald’s “The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire” and the sheer amount of money that was amassed through the covert and later the overt institution of piracy through her “Gentleman Adventurers” in the Channel and the New World in order to sustain and to grow the English economy was absolutely staggering. This was only briefly alluded to in the film The whole reason why Philip of Spain wants to make Isabella Queen of England rather than himself is that the Pope extracted from Fillip the promise that he would not try to become England’s King for fear that God would strike him down because of his unabated Spanish pride. By this time Spain had conquered Portugal and was the greatest power the known world had ever seen. The idea that Philip’s young daughter, Isabella, constantly carries around a doll that bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth Tudor is certainly no accident.
The Mary Queen of Scots character, who would have historically lived most of her life in France, had a Scottish accent. The whole Thockmorton and Gunpowder plots were completely passed over as if they were not so important. There were, during Elizabeth’s reign, more than 20 attempts on her life. She survived them all. If ever there was a cult of personality, certainly Elizabeth was a prime example of the phenomenon. That cult of personality survived long after her death, and survives even today. For surely, it was during her reign that Shakespeare’s talent came to blossom. Elizabeth was loved by England to such a degree that many of her people were fanatically loyal to her and about her. The speech that was made on the hilltops overlooking the English Channel made by Elizabeth although in Kapur’s version was somewhat dramatic, it was not the moving speech that made some of her subjects that were there, men willing to defend England, fall to their knees and weep. So eloquent was England’s queen that most of the assembly were, more than willing to spill their life’s blood for England and for her. Cate Blanchett did what she could with the scene, given the material she had to work with, however, HBO’s version, “Elizabeth I”, played by Helen Miren, pulled it off beautifully.
Others who were important men of Elizabeth’s Court who were pivotal in the events that were swirling around her on the world’s stage such as Lord Robert Dudley, and Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley were both conspicuously absent from this film but important in the first. Perhaps Hollywood felt that audiences could not focus on more than one love interest in the film at a time. And although Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Clive Owen, was definitely one of Elizabeth’s many favourites, he was definitely not the only favourite. Robert Dudley’s stepson, Robert, the Earl of Essex was a major romance for her which ends up badly and he losing his life. Perhaps Kapur is saving this ace for the third movie of this series that he is planning as mentioned on his website. Geoffrey Rush, returning in one of his most memorable roles as Sir Francis Walsingham, is a mere shadow of his former self. Gone is the glittering, conniving serpent who was Her Majesty’s spymaster, the Father of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and MI5. In this movie he is a man who is not well. There is still the man who would not shrink from using torture to keep Her Majesty’s throne safe, but there hardly needed to be the historically inaccurate plot device of Sir Francis having a brother who in the end betrayed him and was banished to France, and ordered never to let himself be heard of. Apparently that is all a screenwriter need do these days against such a minor inconvenience such as a very well documented historical period and the people who were the major players in it. It works in soap operas every day, but it falls flat here.
All in all, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is worth seeing. It however, is probably best seen on DVD when you can get up and make frequent trips to the kitchen or can multi-task in the background. You couldn’t possibly miss much.
Author’s Note: If any errors, historical or otherwise, are found in this review, they are solely my own. I confess I wrote it off the cuff without picking up a single outside source other than from memory. At any rate, I would be grateful for my fellow Elizabethan history enthusiasts to point them out to me. I am also always grateful for the sharing of historical resources that you may know of that I have not read. I have a bookshelf that is quite literally groaning under the weight of all of the books that I have on Elizabeth and her times, but I always want to read more! Thank you in advance! 🙂