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ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE (director: Shekhar Kapur; screenwriters: Michael Hirst/William Nicholson; cinematographer: Remi Adefarasin; editors: Jill Bilcock; music: Craig Armstrong/AR Rahman; cast: Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth I), Geoffrey Rush (Francis Walsingham), Clive Owen (Walter Raleigh), Rhys Ifans (Robert Reston), Jordi Molla (King Philip II of Spain), Abbie Cornish (Bess Throckmorton), Samantha Morton (Mary Stuart); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner/Jonathan Cavendish; Universal Pictures; 2007)
“Spectacle, costumes, wigs and an inaccurate history lesson rules the day.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A decade after the uninvolving “Elizabeth,” director Shekhar Kapur (“The Four Feathers”/”Bandit Queen”) and the film’s talented star, the 38-year-old Cate Blanchett (received an Oscar nomination in this star-making role), reunite for some more vivid peeks into the Virgin Queen’s life. It’s set in 1585, when in actuality she was 58 (in the film she appears to be Cate’s age) and was about to lead her Protestant country (though with a big Catholic population) into war with the fanatical Catholic, King Philip II (Jordi Molla) of Spain. Things this time around, if possible, are less restrained and more campy and soap opera-like. It becomes exhaustively tiresome rather than dramatically fulfilling, as spectacle, costumes, wigs and an inaccurate history lesson rules the day. It fatuously bends the truth in the usual Hollywood style: favoring a sumptuous setting, a lavish production, convoluted stortytelling and then titillating us with unaffecting sexual encounters and courtly ladies prancing around with their bosoms about to pop out of their fancy gowns. The gist of the film is about a crude romantic triangle between Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett), the “bastard monarch,” and the rakish but gentlemanly explorer/pirate Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and the lady-in-waiting, the beautiful young pet courtier of Elizabeth’s, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). With smoothie Raleigh kissing the queen’s tush, but bedding down instead with the cutie pie Bess. There’s lots of touching between Elizabeth and Bess, but it trails off in a twisted power-trip of mind-controlling bliss for the queen without going down a Sapphic route.

Screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst care little about re-creating political history as it was, but relish shooting for the Barbie doll moments in the royal court and the occasional cloak-and-dagger thriller moment (the soon to be beheaded scheming Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots (Samantha Morton), passing notes from her prison cell to approve the assassination attempt on cousin Elizabeth), and in keeping all the scenes with the athletic looking Raleigh intentionally playful and sexually inviting.

Things start out fresh and lively; the opening scenes between the Virgin Queen and the gallant Raleigh, laying down his cloak for the queen to cross a puddle, are played for a wink and a nod. But the film takes a nosedive into overbaked melodramatics when it dusts off the history books and veers in all directions to tell its crooked tale (blurring fact and fiction) of the iron-clad will of the strong monarch (voicing that the good fight was for God and country) and how she defeated the Spanish Armada and brought a long and fruitful time of peace and prosperity to her country. In its spare moments it takes time out from its busy doings and of pointing out how lonely the queen is to clumsily try and bring in some irresolute contemporary overtones, such as reminding us that we are once again involved in a holy war against another foreign fundamentalist group of extremists and that the war between Spain and England was entered into in an underhanded way just as was England’s latest war in Iraq.

REVIEWED ON 10/18/2007 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”