Let this be a lesson to us all: Oscar nominations do not necessarily reflect an overall positive movie experience. Elizabeth: The Golden Age has two Academy nods in its favor: Achievement in Costume Design and Best Lead Actress for the always talented Cate Blanchett. All of that, however, does absolutely nothing to change the fact that this film is a dreadful bore and a gigantic, glaring disappointment.
This completely unnecessary sequel to the fantastic Elizabeth tries to cover several things and mostly fails. The plot must be said to be a love story or relationship drama, as actual matters of the state, the assassination attempt, and the war with Spain (a climactic turning point in history that literally changed the world) are brushed aside and given virtually no screen time.
The Spaniards are dark villains, lead by King Phillip II (Jordi Molla) who has a strange gait, walks with a slight hunch, demolishes forests for his war, and otherwise just appears to be generally evil. Molla overplays the character a bit, though probably at the direction of director Shekhar Kapur who needed a real villain for this piece. Contrary the foul, facial haired dark clothed Spaniards are the pious English who wear colorful garb and joke amongst each other. Interesting characterizations, if you can call it that.
The writing falls mostly flat and crams too much into the two hour run time. When we first meet Sir Walter Raleigh (the normally gifted Clive Owen) his dialog is laughable and you feel as though you’re watching a school play rather than a serious historical piece. Geoffrey Rush gives a fine performance, but he is given little to do. Owen’s Raleigh is charismatic, but given to soliloquy and half of an action sequence, which rates high on the lame meter.
Cate Blanchett turns in a good performance, though her acting is strong the character is misportrayed. I would be surprised to see an Oscar given to her for this role, as she has clearly done better work with better characters. Gone is the stoic and brave queen who shaved off her sex and painted away her beauty. In her place is a giggly school girl who spends the first half of the movie throwing tantrums and pining over the rebel bad boy. This Queen Elizabeth seems to have nothing to do with the Elizabeth from the first movie; she seems to lack the strength she gained and instead lords herself above others and turns bitter and teary eyed when approached with emotion. I was stunned at this schoolgirl presentation of the Queen, God save her.
The direction is lackluster with many, many awkwardly framed shot. A beautifully done movie will either have you notice the exquisite care in which each frame is presented or you’ll never even take notice as the piece flows so wonderfully. Kapur takes great joy, for some reason, in using scenery to block and frame the characters in the most annoying way. If I ever see a shot framed through a lattice again, it shall be too soon.
In its defense, the costuming is well done. Other than that, I found the movie intolerably disappointing. It is not that it is bad, it is just not a historical epic or a sweeping character drama. The entire war with Spain lasts all of seven minutes. A poor seven minutes at that. In fact, the only thing I can say I actually enjoyed was the small performance by Tom Hollander, who despite only getting five minutes of screen time masters every line with a careful attention to his character’s demeanor.
Presentation wise, the DVD is adequate. Picture and sound are both good and the menu navigation is simple and pain free. The extras on the disc include a making of and some behind the scenes looks at how various aspects of the film came together, like the building of a digital armada and a stage-built ship that fulfilled three roles. I found them, as the rest of the movie, to be rather bland.
All in all, Elizabeth: The Golden Age fails to live up to its predecessor and reminds you of a history class if the professor left out all the good parts about war and assassinations, and only mentioned them briefly. The won’t even be on the midterm. If you desire to see this film, surely you will be disappointed. It is not bad film, merely a below average film that bores the viewer, skims history, and ignores the parts that make our blood pump. I hope this article expresses my deepest disappointment in this glossy, mismanaged glimpse into the life of Queen Elizabeth I. Cate, you’re still tremendous, but unfortunately the writer and director failed to show up to work with the same passion and talent you did.