Elizabeth : The Golden Age
|Clive Owen||Sir Walter Raleigh|
|Geoffrey Rush||Sir Francis Walsingham|
|Jordi Molla||Philip II|
|Cate Blanchett||Queen Elizabeth|
|Abbie Cornish||Elizabeth Throckmorton|
|Directed by||Shekhar Kapur|
When the swashbuckling adventurer Walter Raleigh (a swooningly handsome Clive Owen) is trying to make a hit with Queen Elizabeth I (a regal but vulnerable Cate Blanchett), he asks her favorite lady-in waiting how best to approach her.
Bosom heaving, the winsome Bess (Abbie Cornish) offers this advice. “Pay her the compliment of truth.”
It is a compliment that the filmmakers do not extend to the audience. This overblown pottage of pretensions and agonized dialogue, ravaged by a music score as swollen and throbbing as a gouty foot, plays fast and loose with history, and with the patience of its viewers. By the time Elizabeth wafts out of her command tent to stand silhouetted on a cliff borrowed from the cover of a gothic paperback and gaze out over the storm-tossed Channel at a digital Spanish Armada glowing in the distance like candles on a 100th birthday cake, you will wish she had been strangled in her crib.
This is no reflection on the admirable Cate Blanchett, who plays the hell out of the material just as she did a decade ago for the same director in the same role. Nor is it a reflection on Geoffrey Rush, who also returns to the court of the Virgin Queen to serve and die as Lord Walsingham, Elizabeth’s trusted advisor. And it is certainly no reflection on Owen, whose macho swagger blows a breath of fresh air through the musty corridors and stately halls of the royal palace, lifting the spirits of the monarch, the ladies-in-waiting, and the long-suffering cinema patrons.
Raleigh returns from the New World, bringing Native Americans and tobacco and tales of derring-do to enchant the island-bound Elizabeth. Toking dreamily with his queen on pipes of the exotic new leaf from the land he has named Virginia in honor of her legendary chastity, he describes the awesome adventure of the ocean voyage, of seeing nothing but water and more water until at last there in the distance you see a line, and then the line becomes a smudge, and then finally “you dare whisper the word ‘land!’”
Not to be outdone in the rhetoric department, Elizabeth offers this nugget of royal wisdom: “Do we discover the New World, Mr. Raleigh, or does the New World discover us?”
They do have fun together, the newly knighted Sir Walter and the newly girlish Queen. They ride gaily through the royal parks, they sup, they squabble and make up. And when in a tender moment huddled together on the hearth of the royal bedchamber the virginal Elizabeth murmurs to her smoldering swain that there is something she has never done, and in a faltering voice musters the courage to ask him if he might not vouchsafe her this experience she has never known, it comes as a bit of a letdown to discover that what she is asking for is…a kiss.
But it’s a dicey time to be Queen of England, what with Walsingham pressuring her to marry and produce an heir, and her cousin Mary (Samantha Morton) up in Scotland rallying the English Catholics (of whom there are still vast numbers) to treason, and Philip II (Jordi Molla) over in Spain launching a holy war against his apostate former sister-in-law to retrieve the souls of Englishmen for the Pope and the Heavenly Father. A girl needs all the fun she can get.
Lovers of costumery will find it in their hearts to forgive a great deal about this film in return for the opulent outfits. If Elizabeth makes it into the post-season come Oscar time, it will be on the lacy coattails of costume designer Alexandra Byrne, who fills the eye with beauty and the soul with awe.
Lovers of history, meanwhile, will be gnashing their teeth. Director Shekhar Kapur and screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst don’t care much for the niceties of history when they stand in the way of bodice-ripping melodrama. And so we have the vibrant Blanchett, who hardly looks her 38 years, playing the 50-something Elizabeth through a series of intrigues involving marriage and the production of an heir at a time when historically the Virgin Queen was in all likelihood beyond the mechanics of such a venture. And the attentions of the handsome Sir Walter carry a different emotional weight when directed toward the beautiful Blanchett than they would have toward, say a Dame Judi Dench in the role.
As for Raleigh, he pretty much masterminds the destruction of the Armada, swinging from the rigging like Burt Lancaster, and swimming under the burning armada like Johnny Weissmuller, although history suggests he was safe ashore and otherwise occupied at the time.
What care we, say the filmmakers. This is romantic fantasy, not history, and much of the time you fully expect Kapur, here making his third post-Bollywood feature, to turn his cast loose in song and dance.
The problem is, it’s stultifying, not entertaining. And in her Charlie Rose interview last week, Blanchett intimated a third reunion of herself, Kapur, and Elizabeth might be in store. Let’s not encourage them.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be