Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) dir. Shekar Kapur
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush, Rhys Ifans
The Rotten Tomatoes rating for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” stands at 34% - 45 points lower than its predecessor. Is the sequel that bad? It was unanimously trounced as soon as it premiered at TIFF last year. What gives? The film is definitely not bad, and in fact, it’s pretty good. Most certainly a worthy successor the great film of 1998.
Cate Blanchett deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her performance (rare for a sequel). She portrays Elizabeth as an older Queen brilliantly. Elizabeth is a different Queen from those tumultuous early years where she struggled against the Catholic authorities. The film is set between 1585 and 1588, the year of the famous defeat of the Spanish Armada – this would make Elizabeth 50 – and 30 years after the first film. Elizabeth still has not taken a husband and produced an heir. The evil Catholics are still conspiring against her – this time Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), in exile in Scotland, is hoping to take the throne. The Spanish Empire, which, at the time, was more powerful than the British is assembling a massive navy force to take down the Brits for good and the rid world of her evil Protestant ways.
At the top of the film a rogue handsome gentleman sailor named Walter Raleigh fresh from the New World has claimed some riches from a Spanish gallion. Is he a pirate or a privateer working on behalf of the country? Elizabeth is attracted to Clive Owen’s rugged good looks and sends one of her ladies Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish) to watch over him. But Throckmorton and Raleigh fall in love thereby crushing Elizabeth’s soul.
The heart of the film is Elizabeth’s inability to give in to her carnal desires. Inwardly she sees love and yearning as a sign of weakness. And being a woman of older age, in her position, with enemies at the gates, the slightest weakness could spell the death of her country. Kapur and his design team cleverly dress and make Owen up to look like Joseph Fiennes whom you may remember played Elizabeth’s lover in the first film. Elizabeth was betrayed when she found out Fiennes' character was married. The memory of this betrayal is not spoken of overtly but is present in the subtext of the film.
The film looks fantastic - especially on HD DVD. Much of the film takes place inside the elegent Royal Palace, but in the final act we're treated to some fine action spectacle. Elizabeth dons some armour, channels the wrath of God and becomes Joan of Arc. It's unfortunate the real hero of the Armada defeat Sir Francis Drake is given only a brief few minutes of ineffectual screentime played by a forgettable unknown actor, but the star power of Clive Owen elevates the film to believable and entertaining cinema.
Shekar Kapur directs the film with his usual melodramatic flare. It's missing that 'surprise' factor which made the first "Elizabeth" so enjoyable, but it certainly bests the overwrought and unnecessary "Four Feathers". Ignore the critics and the Rotten Tomato ratings and rediscover "Elizabeth: The Golden Age". Enjoy.
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" is available on DVD this week from Universal Home Entertainment.