Nearly 10 years ago, director Shekhar Kapur put a spin on the life of Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, in the blockbuster “Elizabeth,” starring Cate Blanchett. It combined romance, treason, attempted assassination and the threat of Catholic Spain to create a clever masterpiece.
In the sequel, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” Kapur gives us a second dose of Elizabethan England starring Blanchett. A different set of characters surrounding the queen experience romance, treason, attempted assassination and the threat of Catholic Spain, but the film exhibits only a feeble attempt to recreate the passion of the first installment.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” has Queen Elizabeth I (Blanchett) facing considerable obstacles to both her throne and her life. Spain is set on bringing the Inquisition to England and overtaking the crown. Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), Queen of Scots and blood-relative of Elizabeth, is imprisoned but still conspiring to dethrone and replace her English cousin. Along with these territorial challenges, Elizabeth is deeply attracted to the roguish seafarer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) despite her own resolve to remain a free woman and queen.
The film really is about the queen and her relationships with the people who affect her world. Unfortunately, Kapur tries to pack a lot of information and emotion into the plot without fully exploring many aspects, resulting in a stilted and sometimes artificial feeling. Despite an attempt to stand apart from the first film, the sequel’s plot relies too much on the viewer’s familiarity with the era, and the sporadic scenes in the beginning are mostly confusing. It barely scrapes the surface of Sir Francis Walsingham’s (Geoffrey Rush) bond with Elizabeth, a topic covered in the 1998 film, and this installment suffers for it.
Relationships clear up as the movie continues, but having knowledge of the historic events makes for a much greater appreciation of the few nuances the film does portray. Kapur makes certain controversies overly and painfully obvious to appeal to a wider audience. The love triangle between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Elizabeth’s favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish), is often forced and makes it seem as though Kapur and the writers (William Nicholson and Michael Hirst) are trying too hard to focus on the themes of life and love.
The film creeps along for the first half, picking up steam nearly halfway through with the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. The key to historical drama is that because most people know how things end, the direction becomes about the art of keeping the audience enticed. Kapur hints at what is going to happen and succeeds in keeping the audience waiting — and waiting — for the inevitable to actually happen.
Blanchett’s portrayal of Elizabeth keeps the movie from drowning in its own ambitions. Blanchett is giddy one moment and flies into a rage the next in a bold display of Elizabeth’s emotion and power. Blanchett plays the Queen with both subtlety and intrepid daring. Her voice shakes the room in anger, and she dominates the screen, whether the scene is with a crowd or a single other character. Elizabeth says at one point, “You know very well if I fall, you all come tumbling down after me.” Her analysis of the scene’s situation could be applied to the film itself.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” was written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst and directed by Shekhar Kapur.
It received two out of four stars.