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This film details the ascension to the throne and the early reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, as played by Cate Blanchett. The main focus is the endless attempts by her council to marry her off, the Catholic hatred of her and her romance with Lord Robert Dudley. Written by
Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured.
England. 1555. Henry VIII has snuffed it from gout or syphilis, it depends on who you read, Bloody Mary's got a tumour and the Catholics' greatest fear is Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth. Director Kapur has brought to the screen some of the most intriguing moments in English history and the result is dazzling.
Following recent grandiose French historical epics, such as the glorious Ridicule, Elizabeth more than holds its own as a no-holds barred, gripping English extravaganza. Historians across the land will no doubt pick holes in the accuracy, but it hardly matters.
The opening scene signals the film's intent. Protestant heretics are burnt mercilessly at the grisly stake, accompanied by proclamations that they should burn in Hell. It's clear that England is in a pretty gloomy state and ruled by a humourless zealot, Mary (the ubiquitous Kathy Burke), who is hell-bent on converting or murdering Elizabeth: "My sister was born a whore of that Ann Boleyn."
Cheery Mary rules a poor, remote island that is very likely to become the next possession of the growing empire of Spain. She is surrounded by rebels who want to place the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne. So, Mary gets her trusted Lord Norfolk (Eccleston cuts an impressive presence; you can imagine this man swishing on the battlefield) to arrest Lizzy and dispatch her to the Tower of London.
The camerawork and the pace of this film are breathtaking. Kapur directs with ambitious panache, whilst supplying more than a wink to Coppola's The Godfather in the process. Two scenes in particular reek of the Mafia masterpiece: one in the Vatican, the other a succession of assassinations sparked by the majesty's demand, "let it all be done". Pure Pacino.
If you shimmy past the slightly silly inclusions of the likes of Eric Cantona (the IKEA School of Acting) and Angus Deayton, and the fact that Dickie Attenborough (plays a fussy sidekick who sniffs the Queen's bedsheets and claims, "her body belongs to the State") is starting to resemble an Ewok, the acting is otherwise splendid.
Cate Blanchett not only resembles the great lady, but imparts her with enormous affection (her love of Lord Dudley, played by Fiennes, is tenderly dealt with) and delivers her lines with a steely intelligence, "I do not see why a woman must marry at all" and "I'm no man's Elizabeth" . Her performance is a revelation and if it weren't for Geoffrey Rush she would have stolen every scene. However, the Shine star, playing her demonic sidekick Walsingham, delights in creeping in the shadows and pulling the devilish strings. A positively Machiavellian turn and worthy of another Oscar.
This is a history film made at its very finest and the equal of A Man For All Seasons. Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured. Intoxicating imagery ("English blood on French colours" the wicked Mary of Guise, Ardant, proclaims), naughty shenanigans, dastardly deeds, an epic tale and a superb cast. Stunning cinema.
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