Now, almost 10 years later, the same team of Kapur and Adefarasin has created “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” with Blanchett, Rush and Fiennes all returning in their same roles. “Golden Age” is the epic sequel that begins where the other left off.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” opens with an ominous prologue that lays the groundwork for a foreboding holy war between King Phillip II of Spain (Jordi Molla), a Catholic, and Queen Elizabeth I of England (Cate Blanchett), a Protestant.
The film follows the life of Elizabeth, hence the title, and her court during England’s rise of power. Early on, it is apparent that Elizabeth is a strong and smart woman, evidenced by her quick wit and sarcastic humor.
She is advised by Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), who tries quite frequently to find a suitor for the queen so she can give birth to an heir. Francis is also irritated that the Queen won’t persecute Catholics in England, even if their loyalties lie with the pope.
While the film has an overarching plot concerning the impending war with King Phillip, most of the time is spent exploring the relationship between Elizabeth and an English explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who founded the Roanoke Colony in the New World. Originally, Raleigh befriends Elizabeth’s most trusted lady friend, Bess (Abbie Cornish), in an attempt to get closer to the queen and learn how to win her favor.
However, Raleigh’s intentions are not to court the queen, but to gain permission from her to return to the New World and rule over the colony.
Elizabeth, intrigued by Raleigh’s passion and sense of adventure, asks instead that he stay in England and asks Bess to befriend the man. Elizabeth finds herself vulnerable around Raleigh and begins to love him, but must distance herself to retain her power and duty over her country. The result is a love triangle between the three, all with different intentions behind their love.
Meanwhile, a plot to assassinate Elizabeth is being formed between Spain and Elizabeth’s Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart of Scotland. Sir Francis discovers the plot and sets into motion a series of events that could ultimately lead to the rise of Spain.
“Golden Age” can easily be called an epic. Its sets are spectacularly large, including castles and palace rooms, even down to Elizabeth’s thrones. Equally grandiose are the costumes; in an age where the more you wore the more you were worth, Cate Blanchett is often hidden within large, blooming dresses with hair pieces reminiscent of Queen Amidala in the first Star Wars prequel. And like “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” did, “Golden Age” spends a lot of time boasting about the design of the production through the camera work and composition of its scenes.
Oftentimes, the film seems to focus more on how it looks than the story it is telling, causing the film to fall flat. There are many scenes where the camera is very far away from the characters, presumably to have a wide-angle shot of a magnificent setting, distancing the audience from the basic human element. It’s hard to get to know the characters when you can barely see their face, which is a shame because there is a great deal of brilliant acting in the film.
Cate Blanchett is superb in the title role. Blanchett understands Elizabeth’s internal struggles: the urge to marry and seek adventure with Raleigh knowing whole-heartedly that she just can’t do it.
Blanchett’s acting is most powerful in her subtleties; just watch her hands in any scene. She also has a presence on the screen that commands attention from those sharing it with her.
The other actors managed to make the best of their screen time. Clive Owen and G eoffrey Rush, who are both charismatic enough on their own to lead a movie, don’t try to overpower the story with their characters. They blend in naturally and freely.
Most surprising, however, was Jordi Molla as King Phillip II. Molla takes control of Phillip and makes him the most intriguing character of the film, who unfortunately spends only a few minutes on screen. There are a few lines to be spoken by Phillip, but it’s Molla’s ability to create mystique that had me rooting for Spain at times.
While the acting was great, the soundtrack was somewhat lacking. Though powerful at times, the score comes off as mostly trite and unoriginal.
Like much of “Golden Age,” it’s trying so hard to impress the audience that it comes off as cheesy. Clive Owen might as well have come in to sweep Cate Blanchett off her feet and carry her away during some of the score. It wasn’t a film score that I hadn’t heard before. Though that usually isn’t a problem in most movies, it doesn’t work here because it doesn’t try to be subtle.
The biggest problem with “Golden Age” is that it always seemed confused with itself. I never knew which plot to be following, the war or the love story. The beginning of the movie seems more concerned with the war and then it dives into a love triangle among Raleigh, Bess and Elizabeth. However, the film then abandons the love triangle with very little resolution and comes back to focus on the war. There wasn’t a great concept of plot to sub-plot relation.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is just as epic as it is a disappointment. To give credit where it’s due, Kapur does manage to compose some beautiful shots along with cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. But the whole time I was watching the movie, I kept wishing they would let the story take precedence over the set pieces, costumes and music. The characters were interesting, the story is full of love and war, and the acting is wonderful.
Much like the queen herself, though, the movie’s true personality is hidden beneath baroque dresses, ornate decorations and a facade of makeup.