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ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
U.S. Release Date: October 12, 2007
Distributor: Universal
Writer: William Nicholson
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Composer: Craig Armstrong, A.R. Rahman
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush, Abbie Cornish, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Eddie Redmayne
Running Time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, some sexuality and nudity)

Elizabeth Sequel Sinks in Histrionics
by Scott Holleran

Like a gaudy German opera stocked with rich costumes, the overpowering sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age thunders and trembles, gasping for air and running out of breath. When the usually dependable Cate Blanchett, one of the screen's best actresses, starts spewing catty one-liners from the throne, you know you're in for a bumpy ride.

That Bette Davis paraphrase comes to mind every time Miss Blanchett chews a scene, which she does throughout this elaborate period piece. Recalling Miss Davis as a haughty Queen Elizabeth decades ago, all but disregarding the original movie's woman of substance, Miss Blanchett does her best to bear the chaos, but she tends to overact in this opulent affair.

The superior 1998 picture, Elizabeth, was Miss Blanchett's breakthrough role. She dominated the movie, also directed by Shekhar Kapur, with her intense portrayal of England's legendary queen in that blistering dramatization of religious statism.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age fails to follow through on the earlier effort, depositing the sharp young monarch of the first movie into a hollow shell of her former self, retaining few of her best attributes. This crowned woman saunters about in the first half decked in big hair and big clothes, trapped in small, meaningless conversations about astrology, apparently having discarded her hard-earned lessons.

This century's Queen Elizabeth also hasn't much to go up against. The Spanish king (Catalonian actor Jordi Molla) radiates religious zeal with his piercingly beautiful eyes but he's mired in a Da Vinci Code subplot with an emphasis on sub and, though faith and force are shown to be philosophically linked, Spain's invasion of Britain never feels like an imminent, serious threat.

The frills, gowns and heart-shaped hairstyles are eye candy but they constantly drag Elizabeth: The Golden Age down. Toss in Lizzie's lesbianism with a young maiden (Abbie Cornish) who softly strokes the queen in her royal bathtub, add cardboard Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh in what amounts to window dressing, and it feels like a threesome in progress.

The title character's emotional transformation from a virgin monarch—not including the female companionship—who's awakened to swooning desire by Raleigh to she-devil in a blue dress throwing fits and taking on the entire Spanish Inquisition is less than beguiling. The frigid queen routine was the last movie's lesson and here it is just histrionics. The woman who outsmarted the religious patriarchy last time is reduced to a woman scorned.

Basically pretending Elizabeth didn't happen, Kapur gives equal weight to virtually every scene, resulting in wild plot fluctuations with a score that never deviates from the Bruckheimer scale. Important events—such as the release of a pivotal prisoner—occur offscreen. Seafaring explorer Raleigh seems to have nothing better to do than chase after the pasty monarch, with no evidence of his abilities. Just when a popcorn moment pops up—with Catholic fundamentalists vowing to "let God's work begin"—it's back to the tedious queen in meltdown mode.

Miss Blanchett has some very good scenes, notably one with Owen by the fire in which glimpses of her earlier Elizabeth can be seen. Owen is bland as ever, taking liberties with the queen that strain plausibility, and Geoffrey Rush returns to no particular effect as Sir Francis. Mary Queen of Scots (biting Samantha Morton) gets in on the action, promising a more ominous conflict than she delivers. The same must be said of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, whose aging is anything but golden.


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