Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the sequel to Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 Oscar-winning historical drama, Elizabeth.

In this film, Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Geoffery Rush return to their roles as Queen Elizabeth I and the head of her royal court, the devious, but loyal Sir Francis Walsingham. They are joined in this film by Clive Owen, who plays the dashing and handsome pirate, privateer and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is not a perfect film, but overall its positives are enough to make up for its negatives. The movie benefits from strong character-driven performances, elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, particularly those worn by Cate Blanchett. There are several moments in the movie where the director and the costume designer seem to give Blanchett the feel of a living painting.

The areas where the film falls down are in its writing, its music and its climax. Elizabeth: The Golden Age was written by Michael Hirst, the same screenwriter who wrote Elizabeth. Nine years ago, Hirst was nominated for a screen writing award by the British Academy of Film and Television for his work on that movie. In comparison, the writing in Elizabeth: The Golden Age is somewhat lacking.

The main thrust of the plot centers around the interactions between Elizabeth, Raleigh and her favourite lady-in-waiting, Bess. Raleigh is immediately smitten with Elizabeth and as he is constantly petitioning her to grant his new colony of Virginia a royal charter, their paths cross often. As result, she becomes interested in him and begins to pursue a relationship. However, as she can only marry a person of noble descent, anything more than friendship is out of the question. She is also curious to learn more about Raleigh and instructs Bess to talk to him. Raleigh befriends Bess, seeing her as a way to become more intimately involved with Elizabeth and in the process, fathers her child. It is here that the somewhat lackluster writing becomes evident.

In the royal courts of sixteenth century Europe, it was a common practice for ladies-in-waiting to seek the permission of their queen before becoming romantically involved with a man or before having a child. By this point in movie, Elizabeth has developed romantic feelings for Raleigh and berates Bess for becoming pregnant. The problem is that this scene, which should be a dramatic moment, feels hollow and somehow flat. The viewer is left with no sympathy for either Bess, who suddenly finds herself in a difficult situation made worse by the fact that her secret has come out into the open on the eve of battle with the Spanish Armada, or Elizabeth who finds that not only has one of her ladies disobeyed her, but stolen the man that she is coming to love. The viewer is meant to think that this is a tragic moment for Elizabeth, but Hirst does not really manage to convey that feeling if this is intended to be the case.

The music in Elizabeth: The Golden Age also misses some notes. For much of the movie, the music is a standard orchestral film score which is beautiful to listen to and gives the film an epic feel. Yet, the music written for the sea battle at the end of the movie is different. It has much more modern feel and sounds very discordant, not only in terms of the orchestral arrangement, but also in terms of how it fits with the rest of the movie’s music.

The final slightly sour note in Elizabeth: The Golden Age has to do with the movie’s climactic sea battle between the English navy and the Spanish Armada. The sea battle had strong visual appeal, often taking on the feel of a painting with its brooding clouds, storm tossed waves and battered ships. However, the battle itself felt skimmed over, to the detriment of the movie as a whole. The defeat of the Spanish Armada is generally recognized as one of the shining moments in the reign of Elizabeth I and contributed to her image as a defender of Protestantism in Europe. It seems odd, therefore, that the English victory over the Spanish would not receive more screen time than it actually did. However, in this age of director’s cut DVDs and limited edition boxed sets, it is possible that this will be corrected at some point in the future.

Over all, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is an imperfect, but well executed historical drama with touches of political intrigue, romance and high seas adventure. Blanchett, Rush and Owen deliver strong performances in a beautifully shot and edited film. Oscar recognition in one form or another seems to be a safe bet.

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