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Overall Rating
2.8

Awesome: 4.44%
Worth A Look: 17.78%
Average51.11%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 20%

5 reviews, 15 user ratings


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Elizabeth: The Golden Age
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Hard-To-Watch Reign Is Gonna Fall."
1 stars

When “Elizabeth,” the intimate epic chronicling the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I as she learned to negotiate the rules of ruling while fending off those who would have her removed from the throne for being Protestant, childless and unmarried, was released in 1998, it was hailed by critics and audiences alike for the exciting direction from Shekhar Kapur, the smartly and intricately crafted screenplay by Michael Hirst and the standout performances from Cate Blanchett (in the role that made her a star) and Geoffrey Rush. Seeing as how they all signed on for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the long-planned continuation of Elizabeth’s story, you might expect the film to be of the same high quality as the first one. Alas, not only does it fail to live up to the exemplary standards of the original, it doesn’t even begin to work simply as a film in its own right. In fact, it is such a complete botch that it is difficult to believe that any of these people actually saw “Elizabeth,” let alone made it.

The action picks up in 1585 with Elizabeth (Blanchett) still in charge and still at odds with Spain, whose king, Philip II (Jordi Molla), is determined to take over England and restore it to Catholicism. As Elizabeth goes through the day-to-day motions of trying to balance rule with compassion (she refuses to invoke any sanctions against the Catholic populace of England even though they theoretically present a danger to her rule and life), her loyal advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), continues to solidify her power while trying to quash the numerous threats on her life. Through an elaborate web of spies and informants, he exposes a potential assassination plot that appears to be headed by Elizabeth’s exiled Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), who still believes that she is the rightful heir to the throne. He quashes this particular plot in the harshest manner possible but only when it is too late does he realize that by doing so, he has given Spain just the excuse that they have been looking for to launch an all-out attack with a fearsome armada that could easily overwhelm any force that England could possibly muster in its defense.

On the other hand, all of this pesky war stuff does serve as a distraction from Elizabeth’s equally tumultuous personal life, or lack of one. As she is still without an heir that will help solidify her claim to the throne, the pressure is on her to marry and have a child. This leads to a parade of “suitable” heirs who come bearing flattery and lavish that only inspire boredom in her. She is far more intrigued by the presence of the dashing adventurer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who has just returned from the New World bearing Indians and potatoes for her amusement. Alas, he is not considered a suitable match and so she must keep her true feelings for him hidden even as she is knighting him. In order to keep him nearby, she entrusts her most loyal lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), to befriend him–a job that she does a little too well, if you know what I mean.

With its combination of sex, religious conflict, political intrigue and old-fashioned soap opera histrionics, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” sounds in theory like it has all the ingredients for an enthralling night at the movies but somewhere along the line between concept and execution, something evidently went terribly wrong. The screenplay by Hirst and William Nicholson is an ungodly mess that throws out plenty of names, places, dates and plot developments but never figures out a way to make them resonate from a narrative standpoint–it flits about from intrigue to intrigue without ever developing a through line that will allow us to care about any of them. Kapur’s directorial touch, which was so strong and sure the first time around, seems to have complete eluded him this time around. Perhaps realizing that the central storyline wasn’t as strong this time around, he has chosen to tart things up with any number of obvious stylistic touches–weird camera angles (he uses so many low angles in the opening reel that it feels as if cinematographer Remi Adefarasin left his tripod at home while shooting those scenes), a bombastic score and the kind of rapid-fire editing style that one normally associates with fender-headed action blockbusters like “Armageddon.” I don’t object to the use of such flourishes in the context of a historical drama of this type, as anyone who saw my review of “Marie Antoinette” can attest. However, when Sofia Coppola deployed such tricks, they were all in the service of the specific approach that she was going for while Kapur, on the other hand, appears to be employing them in an attempt to distract us from the film’s obvious deficiencies but all they wind up doing is highlight them even further.

Despite all of these problems, some of you may still be holding out hopes for the film on the basis that anything combining the acting talents of Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton and Abbie Cornish (not to mention Susan Lynch as Mary’s lady-in-waiting and Rhys Ifans as one of the chief conspirators) would have to be worth watching just for the sight of such a cast going up against one another. Alas, their contributions turn out to be just as lackluster as the ones given by everyone else–the performance level is closer to the kind you find in those cut-rate studio epics from the 1950's where the great romantic heroes and heroines of a bygone era would be essayed by such blank slates as Robert Wagner and Faith Domergue . You might think that the idea of such powerful actors as Blanchett, Morton and Rush simply going through the lazy motions is an impossibility but here is the proof–Blanchett lacks the fire and feeling that she brought to the part of Elizabeth the first time around (the only real emotion she demonstrates is her visible discomfort with the gaudy costumes that she has been adorned with throughout), Morton is disappointingly shrill and one-note in her brief moments as Mary and Rush seems so bored and disconnected from the proceedings that it feels as if he just wandered in to shoot his scenes during some downtime on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” set. The notion of Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh sounds like a can’t-miss proposition but even he gives us a wan and fairly feeble turn that lacks the electricity that he brought to such films as “Children of Men” and “Closer.” The only performance that doesn’t completely disappoint is the one turned in by rising Australian starlet Abbie Cornish (whom you probably didn’t see in the great “Somersault,” the good “Candy” and the otherwise dreadful “A Good Year”) as Bess–the role is nothing much–the standard cleavage-heaving ingenue turn that will be familiar to fans of the genre–but she brings a sorely needed lift to both the proceedings and her outfits.

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is indeed a terrible movie but more than that, it is an utterly inexplicable one. How could so many talented people come together and emerge with something as vapid as this after making it work so well the first time around? Maybe it is because back then, they were younger, hungrier and had more to prove, not unlike the woman at the heart of its story. Here, they are older, more comfortably established and surrounded by people willing to tell them that everything is swell even when it must have been clearly evident that it wasn’t. Before this film premiered a couple of months ago at the Venice Film Festival, Kapur was discussing the idea of reuniting with Blanchett for a final film that would cover Elizabeth’s final years on the throne. If “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is any indication, we should probably all hope and pray that they abdicate before that idea comes to fruition.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15744&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/12/07 14:00:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/09 Aesop Mommy, make it stop. 1 stars
1/10/09 Anonymous. disappointing after "elizabeth" but cate blanchett still acts well. 3 stars
10/26/08 Hopalong Cassidy Three stars for the gay horse 3 stars
8/17/08 Heathcliff Sixty percent overblown sound score, thirty percent lovely frocks, ten percent story. 1 stars
6/13/08 daveyt Agree with Ian, enjoyed despite the critics... so there 4 stars
5/14/08 PAUL SHORTT TERRIBLE FILM - IN EVERY ASPECT 1 stars
12/13/07 William Goss More elaborate production than first one, but comes off as aloof awards bait in the end. 3 stars
11/15/07 Idris Poorly directed, average performances, awful script 2 stars
10/30/07 Ole Man Bourbon It was ok. More like a soap opera than anything. Certainly watchable. 3 stars
10/18/07 Ian Liked the film in spite of the critics 4 stars
10/17/07 LGS Story line and performances non-compelling. 2 stars
10/16/07 MANDY LOVED CATE BALANCHETT, MOVIE A "YAWN 3 stars
10/15/07 jcjs fine, again not for nitpick critics/historians..fun, interesting, good acting 5 stars
10/14/07 Vicki Melton-Miller A huge disappointment! 2 stars
10/13/07 Heather Cate Blanchett is amazing 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  12-Oct-2007 (PG-13)

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