- Rated R
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch has been made of the fact that “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is a sequel to Shekhar Kapur’s Academy Award-winning portrait of England’s most famous queen, but has it really been that long since “The Godfather: Part II” took top honors at the show? Surely a movie isn’t automatically discredited for bearing the title of “sequel,” and if there’s any subject the Academy has proven they simply can’t get enough of, it’s the Virgin Queen. In the past decade alone, three actresses have portrayed Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren), and all three walked away from the role with awards aplenty. That may sound like a guarantee for repeat success, but while Blanchett delivers a performance good enough to make another run for the golden statue, the film's poor reception may hinder the actress from even making the ballot.
Taking place several years after the events of the original film, Blanchett returns to the title role of Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Now in her third decade of rule, Elizabeth no longer faces the controversies of her virgin status, but when King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla) and Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) plot a Catholic takeover of the Protestant-run country, she must turn to her circle of advisors – led by Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) – to choose the appropriate course of action. The growing talks of war are suddenly interrupted, however, when traveling swashbuckler Walter Raleigh (Clive Owens) returns from America with spoils from the land (potatoes and tobacco) and the sea (Spanish gold), and though Elizabeth shows a romantic interest in the dashing pirate, her commitment to her country prevents her from having anything more. Instead, the pleasure of Raleigh’s company falls to another Elizabeth – the queen’s confidant and friend, Beth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish).
Unmistakably more mainstream than the art house original, “The Golden Age” both thrives and suffers from its differences. Part of its success stems from the fact that the movie looks better visually, but because the film reflects the golden age of Elizabeth’s rule, it only seems natural that the court should appear brighter and more jovial. Even Elizabeth herself is in a much lighter mood, often joking with her ladies-in-waiting and snickering at the ridiculous suitors brought before her, despite the fact that an assassination attempt may be in the works. The sequel also lacks the in-house conspiracy of the first film – which lent to much darker environments and the kind of keyhole spy shots that director Kapur absolutely loves. But while one might point out that Elizabeth is in danger in this outing as well, it remains an outside threat, thus keeping the shadows and secrets (and ultimately, the darkness) far away from the halls of the kingdom.
Blanchett commands the screen once again as the Virgin Queen, but seriously, when has an actress in that role ever failed to entertain? Playing royalty is almost a surefire way to garner critical applause (unless you’re Kirsten Dunst), and though we’ve seen Blanchett play the queen before, her second outing is stronger and more impressive. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the rest of the cast. Owen brings mainstream credit to the film as Raleigh, but the performance falls embarrassingly flat, while Rush can hardly escape the confines of such a limited role. Only Samantha Morton shows real promise as the queen-to-be, but much like Rush, her character doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. This can probably be attributed to the fact that, at the end of the day, this is a movie about Elizabeth, but with a possible third film on the way, it sure would have been nice to get a little more exposure from the people that helped her make history.
Still, it’s hard to deny the allure of Elizabeth – a woman whose life is so interesting and unique that it almost begs annual coverage. While not a big fan of the original, I kept my expectations relatively low for this sequel, and ultimately came out enjoying it more than others. The film has its faults, no doubt (namely in the soapish love triangle and unsatisfying action climax that bogs down the final act), but when all is said and done, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” succeeds as yet another fine period piece if not for the queen it profiles, then for the woman who fills her shoes.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
After reviewing countless DVDs with very little appeal, it’s nice to see that Universal has actually put some time and effort into the single-disc release of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” The highlight of the disc is the audio commentary with director Shekhar Kapur. The guy’s not only passionate about his movie, but of his craft as well, and while he talks a lot about the historical relevance and subtexts within the film, it’s his candid approach to the material. Also included are a handful of deleted scenes, a making-of featurette (“The Reign Continues) composed mostly of cast/crew interviews, and three production featurettes (“Inside Elizabeth’s World,” “Commanding the Winds” and “Towers, Courts and Cathedrals,”) that, despite being mildly sleep-inducing, will have history buffs chomping at the bit for more.