The year is 1585, and the mighty empire of Spain is a bastion of Catholicism in a holy war that has embroiled all of Europe. England, under control of the Protestant Virgin Queen Elizabeth, exists in defiant opposition to Spain. Such is the historical stage upon which Elizabeth: The Golden Age plays; a theater of conflicting faiths, romances, countries and, unfortunately, storylines.
Nearly 30 years have passed since Queen Elizabeths ascension to the throne, detailed in 1998s film, Elizabeth. The Queen (reprised by Cate Blanchett), is still beset with questions regarding the power and legitimacy of her throne. Her advisors continue to insist that she must marry and bear an heir to solidify her throne and, hopefully, bolster Englands resources.
These same advisors fronted by Elizabeths most trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walshingham (reprised by Geoffrey Rush) also warn of the increasing threat presented by Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), and Spains Philip II (Jordi Molla). These two forces could sweep Elizabeth off her throne.
Confident in her power, Elizabeth struggles to hold these conflicts at bay while indulging in her latest interest: the pirate explorer, Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen.) Raleigh regales Elizabeth with tales of freedom and exploration. Entranced, Elizabeth selects her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), to be her proxy in love; to befriend the gentleman on her behalf, even as the drums of Spanish war beat ever louder.
Like a second act nearly ten years in the making, Golden Age flawlessly flows from the ending moments of its precursor Elizabeth. Director Shekhar Kapur immediately places us back in Elizabeths court, but with a Queen infinitely more assured, confident and powerful.
Blanchett is compelling at first as she teases Elizabeths suitors with royal wit and sarcasm. Rush is equally engaging in his important, but somewhat diminished roll. And, as the newcomer to Kapurs Elizabethan court, Owen is charming in his wooing of both Elizabeth and Bess.
But as bright, and flushed with appealing humor, as these opening moments are, the richness of it all quickly wears thin.
The screenplay, co-written by William Nicholson and Elizabeth writer Michael Hirst, introduces story elements with little to no structure. The awkward love triangle garners the most attention and screen time, while the more intriguing historical aspects buzz by at dizzying paces. Integral plotlines come via quick and flashy edits that are in complete opposition to the tight, character focus of the first film.
As if controlled by the hand of Hollywood itself, history and apocrypha weave indistinguishably to produce a condensed and muddled poetic version of fact. The second half of the film exists as a fevered pitch of melodrama, a series of over-orchestrated montages that are designed to relay the decisive aspects of Englands war with Spain, replete with absurd and unintentionally funny scenes of uninspired speeches by Blanchett and clumsy Errol Flynn-like action by Owen.
Ironically, the films few high points come courtesy of the supposedly treasonous Mary Queen of Scots. Mortons regal depiction of the imprisoned monarch is riveting; far more interesting than Blanchetts near petulant Elizabeth, and far more in line with the tenor of the first film.
With this constant back and forth of introspective character study and sweeping, romanticized historical drama, Kapurs Golden Age lacks any real cohesion.
This Age could have should have been wonderful given the noble intent and talent. Yet, the plots of love and war conflict within the film and make you wish that this idea to add onto 1998s Elizabeth had been itself locked up in a tower to await a beheading.
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