Sunday, February 17, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2/5)

In the original Elizabeth we saw the title character transform from an inexperienced twenty-something into a queen by hardening her heart and learning the ways of cutthroat politics. So, why in the sequel is she portrayed as a hysterical teenager? The filmmakers didn’t see fit to transfer any of what made the original character so great into the sequel. Instead of the assured queen at the end of Elizabeth, in Elizabeth: The Golden Age we are treated to an insecure monarch reacting to a midlife crisis by acting half her age.

King Philip of Spain is amassing an armada to invade England. He sees the Protestant queen as a spot of darkness in a Catholic world, even though, despite urgings to do so by her own counsel, she refuses to persecute Catholics in her own kingdom. If this wasn’t enough, her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, is planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and take the English throne. In the midst of these political machinations is a love triangle between the explorer Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth, and one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting.

For all of the intrigue and subplots, not much happens for the first half of the film and instead of political intrigue the audience is forced to endure another love scene where the two romantics ride horses in the countryside. Raleigh and Elizabeth’s relationship is utterly unconvincing. I cannot understand how anyone but the most na├»ve would be taken in on Raleigh’s “philosophical musings” about how when death closes in during a storm it only makes you want to live more, to which Elizabeth replies with wide eyes, “Yes, to live!” It sounds like the kind of life philosophy that would fit nicely in between sketches of unicorns and rainbows.

The looming threat of the Inquisition accompanies the Spanish armada, even though we are never shown the religious intolerance of the Inquisition. The menace would have loomed larger if the audience was aware of just exactly what was at stake. The first film had the tremendous opening where Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake, would it have been too much for a similar reminder that Europe still had one foot in the Dark Ages? Perhaps director Shekhar Kapur felt the dialogue was already enough torture for his audience.

In the film’s defense, it does fulfill the historical film’s need for extravagance in costume and cinematography. However, looking pretty just isn’t enough. After the extraordinary introduction to Elizabeth in the first film the last thing an audience wants to watch is a digression. If the film is about her rise to world dominance, then why does it feel as if Blanchett’s playing the role of a washed up actress, past her prime and unable to get her agent on the phone? It seems as if Elizabeth is more concerned with aging than she is with running her country. The central metaphor to the film is that of a storm, which is uttered from the lips of many characters, and to be sure when you finish watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age, you’ll feel as if you’ve weathered one yourself.

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