first impression

Cate Blanchett in a still from Elizabeth — the Golden Age
Cate Blanchett in a still from Elizabeth
the Golden Age

Five years after the success of Elizabeth, they’ve decided to make another film on the middle years of the Virgin Queen and they are quite likely to end up with a trilogy. It is all about marketing and hence this spate of sequels in the last three decades but then in doing so the subject is likely to lose its freshness. Elizabeth launched both filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and Cate Blanchett to international fame. Elizabeth — the Golden Age merely reiterates it.

The new film is surely more opulent, breath-taking aerial shots with fetching camera angles virtually defines visual splendour, and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin outdoes himself but this is matched by a scintillating screenplay by Michael Hirst (he did the first film) and William Nicholson and the repartee between Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) and Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) is quite exhilarating.

When asked to punish the Catholics because of Philip of Spain’s (Jordi Molla) ulterior motives, she quips, "hang half the people or jail them? `85I will not punish my people for their beliefs, only for their deeds" and the lines are thoroughly modern. Exemplary. The grayness of her personality also comes across when she can’t bear to think that her prot`E9g`E9 Bess (Abbie Cornish) is carrying Raleigh’s child, this even though she gave Bess the green signal earlier with "you’re free to have what I cannot have, you’re my adventurer."

It only shows that royalty is human and, at times, wears ill-fitting underwear, despite professing the opposite as she tries to put Raleigh in his place. It is a modern look at the bastard, Virgin Queen and Cate Blanchett is even more convincing this time shifting moods and tempers almost at will. As for the court scenes, they couldn’t have been bettered. What’s more director Kapur keeps constantly moving along more than one front. Not only does it provide variety but helps deal with the attention span.

The shot of the interiors going around almost full circle reminded one of The Thomas Crown Affair in the late 1960s with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway engaged in a game of chess. It was repeated in Love Story. In this film, the roving camera roves awhile, caressingly. Raleigh’s entry, cloak-over-puddle et al, is at best fair but after that he grows with every frame.

The anti-Catholic angle, however, seems to have been overdone. The gory scenes of torture could have been avoided. One is not for a moment defending the Roman Catholic Church’s role (read Inquisition) in history but Kapur is clearly on the side of the British royalty. It is the modern mantra of being sympathetic to a much-maligned queen. The battle scenes, whether it is at sea with the Spanish Armada or other lesser skirmishes are handled with great aplomb and a brevity of footage and they all contribute to the overall depiction of the chequered rule of that controversial queen, culminating on an expected high but bereft of unnecessary frills and flourishes. The music is supportive and A.R. Rahman’s oriental touch is as pleasing as it is soothing.

Cate Blanchett lives every moment of her tempestuous role and she stretches herself to the utmost emotionally. The romantic sequences with Raleigh are done most tastefully. Yes, she is equally well matched by an exuberant Clive Owen who has certainly arrived as a major player. Geoffrey Rush is academic and Walsingham and Samantha Morton are equally colourless but Abbie Cornish does show enough spunk to merit special mention but they are all little stars quite expendable before the Queen. May be Elizabeth — the Golden Age tries to make up in opulence what it lacks in originality but it is still well worth watching. Well done, Shekhar Kapur.