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ELIZABETH(director: Shekhar Kapur; screenwriter: Michael Hirst; cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin; editor: Jill Bilcock; cast: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth I), Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), Christopher Eccleston (Duke of Norfolk), Joseph Fiennes (Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester), Richard Attenborough (Sir William Cecil), John Gielgud (the Pope), Vincent Cassel (duc d’Anjou), Fanny Ardant (Mary of Guise), Kathy Burke (Queen Mary Tudor), James Frain (Alvaro, Spanish Ambassador); Runtime: 121; Gramercy Pictures; 1998-UK)
“Shekhar Kapur is not a native of Great Britain but was raised in India, who admittedly knew little about Elizabeth when assigned this film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shekhar Kapur is not a native of Great Britain but was raised in India, who admittedly knew little about Elizabeth when assigned this film. He offers his frisky but inaccurate account of the young and fearful Elizabeth Tudor’s ascension to the throne. He tells only what happened in the first five years of her reign. The director is clearly more concerned with artful flourishes, Elizabeth’s lust-fulness, and the modern ways to look upon a queen trying to be a ruler of men rather than exploring further the tragic and specific drama of the times. This one’s primarily a costume piece melodrama that enjoyably emphasizes the conspiracies surrounding the so-called Virgin Queen, who is destined to rule England’s Golden Age for some 40 years.

The film opens in 1554 on the last days of Bloody Mary’s Catholic reign and shows Protestants being burnt at the stake by orders of Mary (played by Burke with a certain amount of spleen). The Protestant Elizabeth (played by Cate Blanchett with ashen face and aplomb) is taken to the Tower. Elizabeth is the half-sister to the barren Mary and is an enemy of hers because of faith. But Mary is soon to be deceased and the crown is Elizabeth’s by 1558.

The 25-year-old queen has to watch her back because of many foreign conspiracies afoot,Vatican interference, the country’s state of bankruptcy, and the politically loaded marriage proposals from the Spanish and the French. She receives full protection from the worldly and ruthless Sir Francis Walsingham (in an underwritten role for Geoffrey Rush), who will do anything to make sure she survives. One of his best deeds for her is to catch the powerful Duke of Norfolk (played by Eccleston with proper villainy) in an act of treason, as he conspires with the Vatican to overthrow the heretic Elizabeth. He will be beheaded for his treason.

Elizabeth is full of zest, enjoying herself with her friend and lover Lord Robert Dudley (Fiennes). She actively dances in front of the royal court with Dudley, in a manner that is both shocking and courtly. It was a scene that seemed out of place when compared to the rest of the film, even though it was a striking and memorable scene.

Eventually Lord Robert becomes a reminder to her of how close she came to danger, as his loyalty to her comes into question.

Elizabeth is a film with a propensity for depicting spacious castles that have dark interiors and characters who have dark intentions. The director takes advantage of that to take many overhead camera shots that seem to dramatically capture the intrigues taking place, and all the busywork being done by the Queen’s attendants and her inept but faithful adviser Sir William Cecil (Attenborough). His chief advice is for her to marry and become secure through an alliance. What transpires after all the plots against Elizabeth are put down including the assassination of her rival in Scotland, Mary of Guise (Ardant), is that Elizabeth is transformed from an unsure young girl, trying to rule with a female heart, to someone who has forsaken earthly pleasures to marry her country. She exemplifies someone who has common-sense in ruling the country and has forever given England one church, the Anglican Church of England, which is not beholden to Rome. It could best be said of her, that she grew up when she learned to behave like a queen.

Elizabeth creates a panoramic view of 16th-century England and its political intrigues. It is a film that does a better job making Elizabeth a vivid characterization, than it does of providing unforgettable dialogue and good storytelling. Cate Blanchett becomes Elizabeth giving her a modern feminist voice and a dark look inside her soul in a daring performance that works out rather well, considering the film was emotionally flat and uninvolving.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”