Thursday, 12 January 2012

Elizabeth: The Golden Age film review in The Daily Yomiuri on 15th February 2008

'Elizabeth' leads 16th-century all-star cast
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
4 stars out of five
Dir: Shekhar Kapur
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton

As a veritable who's who of 16th-century celebrities fills the screen in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I even started wondering if we might see a young William Shakespeare soliloquizing before the Virgin Queen. The Bard may be absent from director Shekhar Kapur's fast-moving drama, but Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Walsingham, King Philip II of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Francis Drake are all there in varying degrees of prominence to continue the story of England's Queen Elizabeth I, a decade after Elizabeth chronicled the early years of her reign.

The Golden Age takes up the story in 1585, with the Protestant queen facing Roman Catholic threats not only in mainland Europe, with Philip--Spanish Inquisition and all--leading the charge, but also from supporters of her cousin Mary, whom many Catholics believed to be the rightful queen.

Cate Blanchett reprises her title role with a performance that conveys the strength and vulnerability of the monarch during one of the most momentous periods in English history.

Elizabeth is firmly ensconced in her palace, receiving visitations from a series of suitors, hawkers and all-around entertainers.

One such visitor is Sir Walter Raleigh, just back from his trip to the New World, bearing gifts of potatoes and tobacco.

Clive Owen may have been passed over as the new James Bond, but in the role of the dashing explorer, with his tales of exotic exploration and derring-do, he gets the opportunity to play a suave, likeable rogue--dressed in pantaloons rather than a sharp suit.

In contrast to the stuffy, reverential depiction of the Tudor period in films such as A Man For All Seasons, the contemporary light thrown on characters such as Raleigh is one of the refreshing aspects of this movie.

And it doesn't stop with him. Her Majesty has some cracking lines, the pick of them being her saucy retort to Raleigh's announcement that he has named his new colony Virginia in her honor: "When I marry, will you change the name to Conjugia?"

There are exceptions to this ribaldry though, and the film is no worse off for it. Samantha Morton's portrayal of Mary is powerful and emotional, though at times she bears a striking resemblance to Elsa Lanchester as the monster's mate in Bride of Frankenstein, while Geoffrey Rush's depiction of Elizabeth's malevolent advisor Walsingham is evil personified.

The film climaxes with the defeat of the Spanish Armada by an English fleet of ships led by Drake. Blanchett's speech to the troops at Tilbury recreates one of Elizabeth's finest moments, and her rendition ranks with Kenneth Branagh's St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V.

While some awareness of the historical background to the movie will enhance your enjoyment of the film, events unfold in such a way that it is not essential to have a vast knowledge of English history to appreciate the movie.

For those who can't read Japanese subtitles, though, some Spanish-language ability will be needed for the scenes in Spain as, irritatingly for such a high-profile movie, there are no English subtitles provided. Fortunately, it is possible to keep track of the plot without an understanding of those scenes.

In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Kapur succeeds in relating the story of one of England's most famous historical figures with wit and compassion. Blanchett's mixture of drama and humor in the title role is sure to enhance her reputation as one of the most versatile actors around these days.

At the time of Elizabeth the producers talked about a trilogy of movies. If they can get Blanchett to complete the set perhaps, audiences will finally get to see the Bard of Avon.

The movie, in English and Spanish, opens Saturday.
(Feb. 15, 2008)

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