There’s something about period pieces that just tickle my fancy. If done well, they are the archetype of a cinematic experience; there’s action, drama, romance, and beautiful insight of a historic event. When I discovered that Cate Blanchett’s 1998 Elizabeth has been so highly praised throughout the years I made it my duty to watch.
Yet as I watched the overtly high budgeted melodramatic epic that took place in front of my eyes, I began to question why everyone made such a big deal over it and frequently felt myself gagging at its uninspiring theatrical moments. Even when it ended I assumed that the lackluster and subpar Elizabeth must have been the only film out in 1998 for it to receive such high praise from film critics and movie goers.
I then began to research the film and discovered I’d made a grave mistake. The epic sap-fest that I had downloaded—I mean rented, was actually Elizabeth: the Golden Age, the sequel to the 1998 classic. Relief then washed over me at the fact that I could rip it apart without feeling like I was the odd man out. Elizabeth: the Golden Age had potential; it had the budget, the vision, the actors, and the technology to be a memorable epic. Yet somehow it fails to be an interesting and captivating story and overall just disappoints.
Sequels mostly always suck
It’s 1585 and Spain’s devout Catholic King, Philip II is in the process of declaring war on England for the Protestant Elizabeth’s refusal to bow to the Catholic doctrine. Simultaneously Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is being pressed more and more about her single lifestyle and is told that people are talking and word on the streets is that she’s barren. Being presented with various suitors Elizabeth finds herself uninterested in all but Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), a pirate with great tales of life in the New World. Meanwhile Jesuits in London begin to conspire with Philip (Jordi Molla) and his wife and next of kin to Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, for the death of Elizabeth so that Mary (Samantha Morton) and her daughter will be assured the throne. Elizabeth must prove herself as strong leader by dealing with her own personal problems and leading England to victory against the Spanish Armada.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is an epic story all on its own and for the first half of the film is an interesting and well done one. The architecture is beautiful, the costumes are extravagantly vibrant, the camera movement is fluid and elaborate and Blanchett truly shines as the independent and wise Queen who fears loneliness almost as much as her own mortality. Even Morton is impressive as Mary Stuart giving a powerful performance during an intense breakdown of her character.
However, as the film continues it begins to lose its interesting points and focuses more on its aesthetics as opposed to the story and character development. With a running time of nearly two hours, the oohs and ahhs at the beautiful shots stop happening halfway in and questions of who these people are on screen and what’s their connection to the overall plot began to emerge as the Jesuit characters are quickly introduced and then shoved out of the story. By the time the film ends, viewers may find it hard to comprehend the jumbled incoherent editing of the film’s climactic ship battle scene. Who gets shot, by what, on whose side, is not easy to follow as the outcome of the scene becomes the film’s only priority.
Throughout Elizabeth: The Golden Age viewers are force fed emotions through an intense and larger than life score complete with more strings than a sheet with a 1500 thread count (that’s a lot in case you don’t know thread count).
This can cost you close to $400…
Furthermore, when the drama is not being accented enough through the music, the attempt of clichéd symbolism is unimpressively and repeatedly used throughout. Certain segments of the film contain shots edited in contrast to one another to show Elizabeth in all her light and glory against the dark and sinister Philip. And yes, director Shekhar Kapur uses the typical motif of white light for the pure virginal Elizabeth and dark brooding low light for Philip. Gag me with a spoon.
The underdeveloped yet overplayed character Philip the II alone is reason enough to pop open a forth beer. Philip is nothing more than an evil ruler whose zealous Catholic beliefs seem to be his only motivation for living, oh yeah, and wanting to torture and murder Elizabeth. He even reminds viewers in every scene how much he hates her. There is no small talk to be made with Philip unless it’s smack talk about the whore virgin Elizabeth. Contradiction? So what, she’s going to hell—Philip’s thoughts not mine.
Dr. Claw was more developed in his hate for Inspector Gadget
While William Nicholson and Mitch Hirsts’ screenplay allows for hilarious witty repartee between characters and Kapur’s vision makes for a beautiful film, the overall product strays from being a historical epic and turns into a lackluster melodrama that just left a bad taste in my mouth by the end. Once the voice-over narration kicked in at the end the film, I was forced to chug my last beer to wash down the vomit that was starting to rise. Instead of wasting time watching Elizabeth: the Golden Age, I suggest you sneak those four beers into an art gallery. The pay off will be much more satisfactory.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: anytime Philip refers to Elizabeth as something derogatory.
Take a drink: every time you notice the film’s score.
Chug: through scenes that start off with a slow pan.