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Monday, October 15, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

It seems like forever since I last saw a movie with a snippy little Queen starring in it, one who lives a tragic man-starved life and who faces a world where popular opinion about them has turned ugly, and where the world mocks their very religion and every move they make. Yes, but since Tom Cruise hasn’t had a new movie out since Mission Impossible III, I went to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age instead. Coincidentally, it turns out La Liz had a lot of these same problems.

I curled up in my comfy rocker at the Essex Cinemas as the lights went down and silently cursed myself for not having paid more attention in Current Events back in high school. That’s right. When I was in school the matters addressed in Elizabeth: The Golden Age were freshly minted exploits and I suppose I should have been paying attention. Blame it on that darned Billy Shakespeare and all his home-made love poems. That boy just wouldn’t give up until I agreed to go to the prom with him!

Still, it doesn’t really matter whether you are a history buff or even whether you’ve seen the original Elizabeth from 1998 to appreciate and enjoy this telling of the monarch’s later ruling years. Directed by Bollywood great Shekhar Kapur (The Four Feathers), who also helmed the original Elizabeth, this production takes up the story in 1585, when Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett; I’m Not There) is now 52 and has been on the throne for 27 years, still unmarried. Hmmm. These days people would be trying to fix her up with girls PE Teachers, if you get my drift. So Liz is overwhelmed with suitors, wanting to grab her considerable assets and merge them with their own country’s booty. Unfortunately, the suitors she is getting are not exactly top-notch. Oh, they may be royals from other lands, but they are swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool. Either that, or they are pre-pubescent and don’t speak a word of English, more prize-worthy for the King of Pop than the Queen of England.

While all of this is going on and the poor gal’s biological hourglass is running out of sand, Liz realizes she has lots of other worries as well. Not only does she have no heir to replace her when the time comes, she is now the head of the only European country that is not Roman Catholic thanks to dear old Dad. Even within England there are plenty of citizens who would plot her assassination to restore the former Catholic stronghold over Britain.
Poor Betty also has bad advice within her ranks, even if she doesn’t know it. Her long-time and most trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End) continues as he has for years to manipulate the throne for his own power. Often it is unclear what motivates him other than the simple joy of stirring up drama for his own entertainment. The things people did before movies just for laughs. So Francis gets all in the middle of spinning a soap opera about Betty’s cousin Mary Stuart aka Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton; Mister Lonely), and the next thing you know he has got Bets signing the order to have Mary’s head lopped off for trying to kill her. Natch, that ‘family love thing’ starts to gnaw at Betty but it comes a tad too late and when you live in a big house it’s sometimes hard to find exactly where these executions are taking place in time to stop them. Just ask Candy Spelling. Anyway, Liz gets there too late, and so now she’s got guilt to contend with on top of everything else.

“Everything else” is this case is King Philip II (Jordi Mollà; Cinemart) of Spain with his powerful army and gi-normous armada determined to beat the Catholicism back into England if necessary. The truth be told, Phillip wasn’t all that smart or he would have known that it is never a good idea to declare war on a woman entering menopause. I don’t care how many ships you have, don’t push it. When Mollà, as Phillip declares “There is a wind coming that will sweep away your pride!” Blanchett brilliantly responds “I, too, can command the wind, Sir! I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me!” I get goose bumps just repeating that line. She knew how to lead, and at a time when women weren’t allowed that option except by the accident of noble birth.

You think this is enough to contend with in two hours? Try tossing in scrumptious Clive Owen (Inside Man) as Sir Walter Raleigh, the dashing pirate who has just the buckles Liz would like to swash. Unfortunately, he’s no Prince, so the best she can do is live vicariously by passing him off on her lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish; A Good Year) and hope to hear the juicy details of his hotness from her maid. Pul-lease. If the real Sir Walter looked anything like Clive Owen I seriously doubt Lizzie would have gone down in history known as the “Virgin Queen”, no matter what his standing in society. She’d have just gone down and made history.

If you think this sounds like a abridgment of history that may be too much in too little time you could be right as it does seem like there is an awful lot of story concentrated in a brief two hours, but the production never falters in providing the same outstanding cinematography, score, costuming, lighting, and set design as in the original. In those areas it is flawless.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age provides a fantastic glimpse into a period when history was being made by people, not political parties, and heroics were the result of real bravery and accomplishment for a righteous cause. It’s interesting to sit back and consider what life in the 16th century was like compared to today, and while Elizabeth: The Golden Age hardly shows the life of the common person it does illustrate how far our leaders have strayed from the pursuit of our national freedoms. I’m still waiting to see W put on his battle armor and lead the troops of his war into battle. Hey, if a middle-aged spinster could do it 422 years ago, what’s his excuse today?

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