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Elizabeth: the Golden Age (5/10)

by Tony Medley

This is a film with a terrific cast, Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Rush as her adviser, Sir Francis Walsingham, Clive Owen as Sir Walter Ralegh, and the gorgeous Abbie Cornish as Elizabethís lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton. Unfortunately, it is terminally melodramatic.

It tells the story of a tumultuous part of Elizabethís life, covering her execution of her cousin, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It is told in such a histrionic and superficial manner by director Shekhar Kapur and writers William Nicholson and Michel Hirst, that the cast is left to thrash around to save it.

The story of the destruction of the Spanish Armada is particularly noxious. According to Kapur & Co., the mighty Armada was sunk, you should pardon the expression, because Ralegh (Sir Walter never spelled his name with an ďiĒ) set his ship aflame and single-handedly sailed it into the middle of the Armada, setting all 4,000 ships afire and Elizabethís kingdom was saved. Well, so much for accuracy.

Better done are Elizabethís loneliness, isolation, and the betrayal of her affection by two of the people to whom she gave it, Bess and Sir Walter. The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth had lots of psychological barriers to overcome, like, for instance, the fact that her father murdered her mother.

Blanchett gives a good performance as the lonely, but strong, queen, despite the script and direction. There is one scene that epitomizes the deplorable melodramatic tone of the film. During the battle with the Armada, Elizabeth goes to the edge of a cliff and looks out at the burning ships. We see her from a side shot with her gown blowing behind her. It looks like a lithograph. I can see that it was probably a difficult scene to set up, and that they were working hard to get a memorable visual image, but it comes across as passť, something D.W. Griffith might have done, or maybe a scene more appropriate to Mourning Becomes Electra (1947).

Poor Clive Owen. I still think of him as a potential star, but, except for Closer I canít think of a really good film in which heís acted. I liked King Arthur, but have to admit that it wasnít a particularly terrific film. I still think he would have been a much better James Bond than buff Daniel Craig, but if he keeps acting in inferior films, Iím going to be forced to reevaluate his abilities.

The best part of this film for me is Abbie Cornish. She is beautiful and can act. Making the most of her role, she is a rising star.

September 27, 2007