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After watching Cate Blanchett take on the part of England's Elizabeth I, I knew I had to see the follow up in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Made nearly ten years after the first film, it does dovetail tidily into the first film.
When the film opens, we see that the Queen (Cate Blanchett) is still dangling her suitors about, among them Tsar Ivan of Moscovy, King Eric of Norway and an Austrian Archduke. Her court is a glittering world of pretty ladies-in-waiting, elegant courtiers, and plenty of politics to go around. At her side is still Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), her ruthless spymaster, but no one to really engage her mind and heart. That is, until an adventurer named Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) strides into view, bearing gifts of potatoes, tobacco and looted gold for her.
Elizabeth is certainly intrigued by this pirate, and lets him into her inner circle of courtiers, charmed by his bold manner. So too is one of her ladies, the pert young Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). There's plenty of romance going about, and the viewer wonders if Walter is going to get the lady, the Queen or both.
But all is not sweetness and light, as we also get to see Philip of Spain (Jordi Molla) plotting to conquer England and have the country back into the fold of the Catholic Church, not to mention the Inquisition as well. After all, he's been King of England once before, and he intends to see Elizabeth's cousin, Mary of Scotland (Samantha Morton) become queen, despite the fact that she's Elizabeth's prisoner -- I mean, guest. When Mary goes too far, and is put on trial for treason, Elizabeth is facing not just a possible rebellion but also a Spanish invasion by a massive Armada of ships and men...
To be honest, this one isn't nearly as interesting as it sounds here. Nearly everyone is a bit flat, looking absolutely smashing for the time, but there's little personality beyond the costuming and sets, which is fine for the first viewing of the film, but as to a second -- well, I'm not in any great rush to sit through this one again. Elizabeth bullies, smirks, and smiles at her would-be husbands, and knows that she can't have any of them. Her cossets her ladies, especially Bess, treating her more as a kitten than anything else. And as to Walter Raleigh, well, he's a tasty morsel indeed, but she also demands absolute fidelity while not tossing him anything either. When Bess and Walter get around to being physical about their relationship, it's only a matter of time before they get caught. In that respect the film is accurate -- Elizabeth expected her ladies to be virginal as herself, and woe betide any who were caught out in an affair, being screamed at and slapped around was the least that they could expect.
So what does work with this film? For one, the extravagant costumes and set design. While the Elizabethan costuming gets a bit odd in places, especially in the hairdressing of Mary of Scotland's ladies, most of it just dazzles, even if Elizabeth's gowns do tend to make the eyes bleed now and then. What really works is the set design and Walter Raleigh's ship, The Tyger; be certain to watch the little featurette about how the set designer managed to create a full-sized sailing vessel and made it work.
Where the first film, Elizabeth went into how Elizabeth survived the early years of her reign, this one is rather tepid, despite getting director Shekhar Kapur back for an encore. There's some glorious angles, sets and designs, but nothing to engage the viewer, and ultimately, that has to be the focus of the film, no matter how gorgeous it is to look at.
And there are some serious errors here as well. While the romance between Bess Throckmorton and Walter Raleigh is true, Raleigh wasn't that big of a hero during the Armada -- the real hero was Sir Francis Drake, who hardly gets a mention in this one. That's too bad.
The DVD extras actually get more interesting than the film in spots, always a bad sign. There are several featurettes, including a 'behind the scenes,' the locations used, the way they created a very believable ship and the Armada, the set design and some deleted scenes. Alternate language tracks in French and Spanish, along with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. An alternate audio commentary by the director is there as well.
While this one is not nearly as gory as the first film -- there's only a little bit of torture and one head chopping along with a hanging -- I would still be hesitant to have children and teens watch this. No sex, but some grappling between Bess and Walter. I guess blood and gore is alright for the ratings board, but sex still makes them twitchy. Rated PG-13, but I'd bump that almost to an R given the graphic nature of some of the violence.
Summing up, this still can't compare to the Elizabeth as interpeted by Helen Mirren or Glenda Jackson, but it is certainly better than the slop I saw with Anne-Marie Duff. Visually it's a great film, and better than most historical films, but plot and character wise, it never seems to get better than lukewarm, and that's sad, as this film could have been so much more.
Would I watch it again? Maybe, if I really want to see Clive Owen look ravishing as a man in Elizabethan costuming that doesn't swish about in drag. But other than that, no, not really.
Three stars. That's sad, very sad.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age