Screens » Screens Etc.

A whole New World (of jacquard and wasted opportunity)

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Elizabeth: The Golden Age is, in a word, silly. That Cate Blanchett plays it so convincingly straight is evidence that the film’s no-duh musical score was certainly not played live on set. Clive Owen, on the other hand, plays Sir Walter Raleigh like something out of Harlequin Presents: Pirate Treat o’ the Week (matey), with a twinkly eyed, one-dimensional, I’ll-just-walk-on-the-set-and-say-my-lines coolness. Eck. Might try casting actors in the same realm of talent for Elizabeth 3: Electric Boogaloo.

It’s not that TGA’s predecessor, Elizabeth, was any great shakes (save, again, Blanchett’s performance), released nearly a decade ago in that year of Joseph Fiennes ubiquitous-ness, 1998. Both films by Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur suffer from a schizoid sense of self, a tension between character and spectacle, that, while laughable onscreen, might have made for fantastic opera.

Here, a clan of conspirators against the crown (one of whom bears an eerie, anachronistic resemblance to Abe Lincoln) clandestinely meets in a dye room, where red ink pools and bubbles in vats. It might have made a forgivable stage set, but Remi Adefarasin’s camera suggestively lingering on the scarlet liquid is just too much. Wait, you mean they’re plotting murder? But why?

Because Good Queen Bess is a “godless, childless bastard” that’s why. (Not to suggest that this textilicious trifle is historically accurate, but the basics are there). Spain and the rest of Catholic Europe no likey the Protestant queen regnant, preferring Elizabeth’s imprisoned cousin, Mary Stuart. Like Cold Mountain, a cameo carnival that bragged practically hundreds of immense talents in tiny, thankless roles, TGA wastes the gifted Samantha Morton in the infinitesimal role of Stuart, as well as Tom Hollander and Rhys Ifans in their respective indistinct roles.

Assassination plots aside, Elizabeth continues to reject foreign suitors, she flirts with her ladies-in-waiting, and generally revels in her buck-stops-here authority. Blanchett again brings the flat-out mightiness that was so infectious and astounding in the first film, and as with each character she develops, Elizabeth has a vocabulary of facial expressions and physical gestures (many of which read “unimpressed”) that are entirely her own.

When Sir Raleigh pimp-walks into court, she’s aloofly interested in him, but Bess’s lust is for his adventurer’s lifestyle more than for his body, I daresay. His presence reminds her of the limitations that hem in even a sovereign queen. It also inspires some opera-bad dialogue. To wit: “Do we discover the New World, or does the New World discover us?” Screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst deign to ask one of the world’s foremost actors to speak that ridiculous sentence without even translating it into Italian. At least she gets to wear killer jewelry.

And clothes. The costumes by Alexandra Byrne really are neato, if that’s your thing. (By “that” I mean “textile porn.”) And Richard Roberts’s set decoration provides all the necessary gauzy curtains and stained-glass windowpanes for the camera to peer through, spacing out the ever-popular crane and elliptical shots.

Despite the inclusion of a tame iron-maiden torture scene, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is unfortunately like a Disney-ride version of history, with it’s fake Spanish Armada and fleet of English ships, sailing against a rainbow CGI skyline. Done properly, the continuing story of the willfully barren royal could have been, I don’t know, timely, what with a woman in the running for the U.S. presidency, and still-prevalent teachings about “a lady’s place” spewing from the lips of fundamentalist evangelical men. Alas, I really could have stayed home and watched The
Tudors.

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Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Dir. Shekhar Kapur, writ. William Nicholson, Michael Hirst; feat. Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Samantha Morton, Jordi Mollà, Rhys Ifans (PG-13)


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