The follow up to the brilliant 1998 film Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age doesn’t take place so much during the Golden Age of her reign, but during the moments leading directly up to it, or at least it felt that way. And if you’ve seen the first film recently not only is the plot given in the final moments of the film just before the credits but so to is the outcome of the plot, so there are fewer surprises now. In fact, and unfortunately, there’s little to be surprised about in this new undertaking.
What could shake the foundation of the Virgin Queen whom we last saw becoming one with the Kingdom of England? What power is strong enough to send her teetering into the brinks of despondence? As it was in the first film so it is in the second film, that ever confounding emotion, love. And for one who has taken a vow of not loving, when such a conflict arises, it can be that much more powerful and destructive a force, creating both positive and negative feelings inside oneself. The Queen, although shot in glorious splendor is practically the villain of the film. Her loneliness has begun to drive her almost as mad as her half sister from the first film. Her own vow of chastity has pushed her to the brink as she lashes out at those she cares for the most. In an act, which she ends up regretting, she even takes the step her half sister couldn’t take and must deal with the cleverly set up consequences. But because she is the hero and she remains smart and everyone loves her regardless, we continue to love her as well. After all, would you rather love a Queen driven to jealousy by her own lack of human affection, who cares for her people or a freakishly drone like Philip II King of Spain who wishes to bring the inquisition to her doorstep. It only helps that Cate Blanchett is yet again in top form, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen her not in top form. In fact she’s brilliant, from light hearted revelry to gut wrenching jealousy she commands the emotional core of the film, shifting it as she shifts her face. You can’t help but feel longing with her when she watches her new love interest, the Pirate and settler of Virginia Sir Walter Raleigh played with gooey intense eyes by Clive Owen, dance with one of her ladies in waiting. The look on Blanchett’s face as she lives vicariously would break any persons’ heart. Aside from this scene and a couple others though, this territory has already been trodden upon in the first film.
The Queen must marry and birth to secure her position on the throne, but doesn’t want to. They lack the proper resources to fund a credible army, i.e. they’re broke. Even the political intrigues echo the first film as the Catholics want to take down the heretic whore protestant Queen. Geoffry Rush again playing the devoted Sir Francis Walsingham, as a much older man than Elizabeth an older woman, dances in and out of shadows holding secrets and finding out secrets, but instead of being brought along with these events we’re merely told about them when the traitors are found out, making the subplots far less intriguing, though very pivotal in a different way. Even as far back in the shadows as he tries to remain he has now taken on the role of the pesky old man trying to get Elizabeth to marry and have children (the role Richard Attenborough had in the first film.)
While they take the time to humanize Elizabeth to the point of self-destruction many of the other supporting characters remain beady eyed figures in the shadows. Especially the villains. Philip II seems almost like a dark marionette in the way he walks and moves, while it has a tantalizing effect, it makes the danger Elizabeth faces less palpable. And Philip’s daughter the future Queen of Spain Isabella stares at this and that silently while bewilderingly holding a doll of Queen Elizabeth. She may disapprove of what her Father is doing, it’s hard to say. There’s yet another silent but deadly type sent to bring down Elizabeth. I make it sound a bit tedious, but it isn’t until about and hour and a half into the film that you realize it isn’t going to go anywhere particularly new. The first length though is intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
That last bit is confounding. It feels like they try to scrape through too much history and in the process don’t do it as much justice as they should. The battle sequences are lifeless and less than thrilling. You can tell the only part perhaps Blanchett was yawning through was when she gave her speech to the troops – hardly uplifting. And then in the final moments, while Kapur’s usually steady hand is able to balance sharp visuals that enhance the story we’re treated like children as those visuals begin to hit us over the head again and again and again. A few times the pageantry has little to do with the movie and makes Elizabeth out to be some sort of heavenly creature, which seems to go against everything else. Then the final moment of the film had me looking around to see if anyone else thought it was strange as they repeated exactly the same ending of the first film, but in a far less meaningful way.
Aside from some beautifully crafted film making, Shekhar Kapur is a gifted director, and great performances it begs the question, what was the purpose of making this second film if it very much rehashed the events of the first film? I couldn’t tell you, perhaps to have a hit so they could make a third film that dealt with something different. Then why not just make the third film? It might have been far more interesting to split the time a little more between England and Spain.