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It's rare that a director is able to keep a movie sequel from being little more than a rehash of the original. Usualy it requires the plot to head into an entirely new direction, or the development of the protagonist exceeding expectations. For director Shekhar Kapur's Golden Age, it was a little bit of both.
This role has been the crown jewel in Cate Blanchett's career (pun intended). In the original, her Elizabeth evolves from an earthy Englishwoman to the Queen of England in a study of adaptation and transcendence. In the sequel, we find the Queen evolving from the matriarch of her nation to a symbol of resistance against the hostile takeover of the sovereign countries of Europe by the Roman Church as engineered by the Spanish Empire. Yet we find the inner conflict between Elizabeth the woman and the Virgin Queen of England all the more intriguing.
Geoffrey Rush returns as Sir Francis Walsingham, the force behind the throne whose dark minions engage in bloodthirsty struggles with agents of sedition in every shadowy nook and cranny of the realm. Elizabeth finds herself in latent denial, refusing to sequester herself in maintaining the need for personal contact with her people. A botched assassination attempt results in Walsingham's men uncovering Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton) as the major beneficiary of Spain's plot to invade England and overthrow the Queen. Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), a notorious adventurer, catches Elizabeth's eye but is eventually appointed as a fleet commander as she loses his heart to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). The romantic triangle provides a spicy subplot as we await the main event: the invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. CGI or not, this is one of the best battle epics we've seen in a while, and most history buffs should be able to guess the outcome.
The theme of religion resonates throughout the plot as King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is led by his personal demons and the Vatican to implement the prerogatives of the Holy Inquisition across the Old World. The King believes that he has been anointed by God to perform this duty and sets out to purge the heresy of the Reformation from the face of the earth. Elizabeth, alternately, derives her power from resembling the Virgin Mary, and manages to win the loyalty of her people as a spiritual icon. We are never led down the dark alley of the conflicting ideologies, but redirected towards the question of the freedom of religion. Here is where Elizabeth defends the right to worship, and reinforces her role as protector of the realm and champion of the people.
Clive Owen does a solid job as the love interest and the swashbuckling sea captain breaking Liz's heart, while Abbie Cornish stands up well alongside him as the Queen's confidante who unwittingly comes between Liz and her intended. Samantha Morton's Mary Stuart doesn't get enough screen time, but there's only so much you can do in a two-hour time limit. More for her would have been less for Jordi Molla, and that would have left us with a cast of faceless villains (especially after Walsingham gets through with them).
Watching this one will make you run out and grab the original if you haven't done so already. This is one of the best actress jobs of the decade, and a worthy addition to any movie collection.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older