Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth triumphs in making the political personal. She awards us would-be historical voyeurs with winning glimpses into both royal girlish giggles and wracking regrets. Both ends are deeply satisfying to behold, and made even better because director Shekhar Kapur mitigates them. Her games played with royal suitors and her unlikely connection to Walter Raleigh-as played with odd detachment by Clive Owen, acting a bit James Bond-ish-are seen through the fetching eyes of Bess (Abbie Cornish), her intimate. The tragedies include an assassination attempt, which played a bit too much like The Da Vinci Code, with about as much verifiable historicity attached; all shot from above-as if we were gods.
The pain falls between Elizabeth and her usurped cousin, Mary Queen of Scots-played with spooky resolve and hungry, doomed eyes by Samantha Morton. Mary is the most interesting aspect of the screenplay. Truly wronged, Mary in a moral universe would spell doom for Elizabeth. Instead, in another historically tricked up plot, she provides the glory Elizabeth needs to cement her rule, England’s Golden Age.
But it’s all a bit too narrow for history. Where is Shakespeare? Dowland? I’d settle for a glimpse of Edward Coke or Francis Bacon.
You may think Blanchett’s no Bette Davis and this movie is nowhere good as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. You’d be right. It isn’t. The dialogue is often flat, though it’s more Hollywood than the 1939 film. Often overblown, yet curiously unmoving, this sequel to Kapur’s Elizabeth I (1998) has the same virtues and, sadly, the same baffling problems. Is this pageantry or some kind of revisionism? As it is, the giggles and remorse tend to underscore the filmmaker’s indecisiveness. He’s getting it both ways: Enhance the image, and make us doubt, so we get odd, refracted glimpses. The Golden Age‘s Blanchett plays tarnished action-figure Elizabeth. We might need a third film to decide.