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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
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.
And Elizabeth did whisper Robert Dudley's name on her deathbed
movie is an imaginative interpretation of the way that things could
Shekhar Kapur's film explores the instabilities of her reign, and the absolute horror and terror that surrounded the early part of her royal office without neglecting her relationship with her terminally ill sister So it's a glimpse of her girlhood into statehood, and the shedding that occurs, with the people who expended in her life along the way
The film shows Elizabeth growing up in an incredibly unstable, tumultuous environment But she's an absolute survivor... Someone who has got no solid ground on which she walks So one minute she's a bastard, the next minute she's a princess, then one moment she's an illegitimate daughter, then she's a queen And it's a very relevant period of her life, because she was 25 when she became a female monarch
There are four men in Elizabeth's life and all have quite different influences on what it means for a young woman to run the country so young, given that she comes to the throne under very difficult political circumstances
There's Sir Cecil (Attenborough) who's from an older regime giving her the traditions and the conventions that are the most orthodox; Sir Francis (Geoffrey Rush) Elizabeth's great spy master, very astute, almost puritanical and rather dry bureaucrat; Robert Dudley (Fiennes) with whom the film suggests that she has quite a passionate, private relationship; and Norfolk (Eccleston), a major rival who doesn't regard that she is suitable to rule his England
The motion picture succeeds in developing Elizabeth's change and, basically, locks off parts of herself, and dehumanizes herself in order to wield her power among men
In a year overwhelmed with reminiscent films, Elizabeth rises above the
to become one of few stunning manifestations of the Hollywood Renaissance.
Certainly acknowledged by the Oscars garnering 7 nominations, Shekhar
Kapur's intimate portrait of a young Elizabeth further expands the modern
view on a distant monarch, whose maturing reign as well as taming nature
continued to dazzle the 20th century viewers.
Presented here by a superb cast led by Golden-Globe winner Cate Blanchett, early Elizabethean era turmoil and upheaval are captured brilliantly. The lush set itself is a feast for the eye as the audience is drawn to follow a passionate young Elizabeth's path. Against the dark setting of medieval stone castles, a blooming Golden Age approaches as England expands to take control in a world of great unrest after Catholic Queen Mary's death. Her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth daughter of Anne Bolyne is placed on a throne of a kingdom torn between religion. Cate Blanchett does a fabulous job capturing the details of a frustrated young woman waking to the merciless reality of queenhood--surrounded by enemies such as Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston). Constantly by her side is her reverent adviser Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) who advises Elizabeth to marry for convenience choosing from a "pool" of ready political candidates--while Elizabeth herself is long set on her lover from the past Sir Robert Dudley (a charming Joseph Fiennes). Yet just as England learns to wake up from the medieval dream, Elizabeth learns the bitterness of betrayal as she looks to Sir Francis Walsingham (Jeffrey Rush)'s counsel.
Focusing on Elizabeth's subtle changes of phase from fire to ice at a distant in the midst of a grander panorama beautifully shot, the audience gradually distinguishes her footsteps from the shedding of innocence to a tough ruler that dares to strike first against her enemies, to ultimately become the Virgin Queen to reign above all men.
During the opening credits the camera hovers high above three people being burned at the stake, what an angle, as the fire consumes them in a maelstrom. The cineamatography was so incredibly creative, very Hitchcockian. One need not possess any knowledge of history to make sense of the plot and story. Like a good mystery there were subtle nuances. Glances between characters that foreshadowed events and interactions to come, such as the woman that betrays Norfolk, and the child that inadvertently reveals his father's hiding place. The story wasn't exactly historically accurate, but it got my 15-year-old interested in Elizabethen England. Call it artistic license. The movie was so lush, so complex that I easily saw it twice without becoming bored. Terrific acting, fabulous costumes, great staging.
The Academy Awards ceremony of 1999 angered many people: Shakespeare in
Love, albeit a very smart and funny film, robbed the superior Saving
Private Ryan of the Best Picture Oscar; Roberto Benigni beat Edward
Norton in the Best Actor category (though it was the Italian star's
behavior, rather than his performance, that irritated those attending
the event); and Gwyneth Paltrow, who wasn't actually bad in
Shakespeare, walked away with the Best Actress award, depriving Cate
Blanchett of the recognition she should have received for her
revelatory work in Elizabeth.
This film, the first in what the director hopes will be a trilogy (the second installment was released in 2007), covers the early years of Elizabeth I's reign, from her harsh upbringing to the decision to call herself "the Virgin Queen". To describe her situation as tough is an understatement: she was a Protestant monarch in a largely Catholic kingdom, several covert groups wanted her dead and foreign sovereigns kept asking for her hand in marriage, without ever succeeding, for the only man she loved was also the only one she couldn't have.
Conspiracies and unhappy romances: two unusual ingredients for a period drama. And that is exactly why the film succeeds: in the mind of director Shekhar Kapur, this is not the usual costume film where events are observed with a static eye and what might be perceived by some as excessive slowness (Quentin Tarantino's infamous rant about "Merchant-Ivory sh*t" is aimed at those productions); instead, we get a lively, vibrant piece of work, with the camera sweeping through the gorgeous sets and leering at the exquisite costumes while recounting the grand story. And what a story: the thriller aspect aims to please viewers who find the genre a bit lacking in the tension department, whereas the Queen's doomed love affair with Joseph Fiennes' Earl of Leicester (a plot element to which the BBC miniseries from 2005, starring Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, is a sort of sequel) is the polar opposite of the sanitized, passionless romantic tales that tend to feature in other period films.
Good-looking technique and strong storytelling would, however, be useless if the title role wasn't played by an equally great actress, and Pakur found the perfect Elizabeth in Blanchett: an odd choice she may have seemed (she was a complete unknown in Hollywood prior to being cast in this movie), but the performance she delivers is nothing short of astonishing. Doubtful, determined, passionate, naive, heartbroken, firm and charismatic - she is quite simply the best on-screen incarnation of Elizabeth in the long history of biopics. The supporting cast (Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough) is also excellent, as expected from British and Australian thespians, but it is Blanchett who dominates the entire picture. Shame the Academy didn't take notice.
Cate Blanchett's performance was awe-inspiring and has made me a fan for
life. She should have won the Oscar in 1998.
Terrific performances from the other principal actors, excellent costume/art direction and cinematography, a good script (if you can relax any standards of strict historiography you might have, if any) and well-paced direction and editing make for a terrific period piece.
I loved this movie and raved about it for weeks afterward.
I just watched Elizabeth, for the second time and once again I was ...what
would be the word...moved? Not in the teary-eyed sense, but in a way that
makes you want to read more about Elizabeth I.
However, I have read other comments and two things occurred to me. First, that many people (brilliant scholars or erudite people whom I respect) pretend that "it did not look that way" or " it did not happen that way", such and such. Who are you to tell? History is not an exact science, it is a HUMAN way to try and keep in touch with the events that shaped the world we live in. Being interested in history and costume history myself, nothing STRIKE me as BLATANTLY anachronistic. I think that Mr. Kapur primarily wanted to illustrate Elizabeth's rise to power, not her entire reign, which would take several films. His film is an account of an episode of English history, not a chronic on life in Tudor England, hence the lack of filth and lice, as someone mentioned... The second element is a more personal one, that in fact came to my mind while watching the film: how could Cate Blanchett lose the Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow, of all people?! Her performance in Shakespeare in Love was charming, no less but no more. I think that trying to catch the conscience of a queen, to make an illustrious historic figure come to life is far more difficult than playing William Shakespeare's (fictitious) love interest.
It was my humble opinion, and I wanted to share it with other IMDB users.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As far as Academy Award recognition is concerned, 'Elizabeth' was
unfortunately released in the same year (1998) as the much slicker,
more crowd-pleasing 'Shakespeare in Love,' a fine comic film but as
much over-praised as 'Elizabeth' was overlooked. It certainly borders
on the absurd, if not the criminal, that Gwyneth Paltrow's simpering,
one-note performance as Viola was handed the Best Actress Award over
Cate Blanchett's truly magnificent performance in the title role of
'Elizabeth,' a film whose tracing of Elizabeth's transformation from
teenage frolicker to commanding 'Virgin Queen' presented an enormous
challenge of acting range that Blanchett met with aplomb.
Curiously, 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Elizabeth' not only share the presence of Elizabeth I as an historical character, albeit at opposite ends of her nearly 50 year reign, but also two prominent cast members: Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush. Although Fiennes' role as the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's lover prior to her Virgin Queen persona days, is smaller (and far less winning) than his lead role in 'Shakespeare in Love,' he again cuts a convincing figure in 16th century costume. On the other hand, Geoffrey Rush's performance as Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's utterly ruthless yet completely loyal bodyguard and Machiavellian tutor, is endlessly and hypnotically fascinating a performance that steals movies in movies whose leads are less arresting than Ms. Blanchett.
Yet, in an ironic reversal of Hollywood's usual denigration of comedy in favor of 'serious' drama, it was Rush's much smaller comic performance in 'Shakespeare' that secured him the 1998 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such recognition of comic art and talent, but in this instance it represents another miscarriage of justice. Rush's tone and bearing as he delivers line after line of blood-chilling dialog make Walsingham a character I expect never to forget. 'You were Norfolk,' he responds to the protests of the insufferably arrogant Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth's chief nemesis, as he leads him away to the Tower, 'the dead have no titles.'
Of course, Elizabeth gets off many a great line of her own, as in her unforgettable final rejection of Leicester: 'I am not your Elizabeth. I am no man's Elizabeth. I shall have one mistress here. And no master!' A little later she gives license to Walsingham to proceed with the political cleansing of the realm with a laconic transcendence of her 'womanly' emotions: 'let it all be done.' Still another memorable line marks the final stage of her political education and her departure from the wishy-washy diplomacy represented by Lord Burleigh (her former chief minister, finely played by Sir Richard Attenborough in his final film role): 'Observe, Lord Burleigh, I am married to England.'
Elizabeth ultimately forges a political philosophy that combines elements of Walsingham's cynical wariness with an ideal of self-abnegating service to England ('my people'). She envisions a strong, secular England capable of rising above the internecine religious strife initiated by her father's departure from the Roman Catholic Church and depicted in graphic horror in the film's opening sequence. In so doing she succeeds in mapping out England's course toward a stable, advanced society whose history would include a lengthy period of world domination. This film does full justice to the dilemmas of church-state conflict, to the complex character of the queen herself, and to the rich historical milieu that produced her. It is one of the finest historical dramas to have appeared in decades.
As soccer legend Eric Cantona's former colleagues might say this is a film
of two halves. Despite an intimidating opening scene, the first half soon
settles down to establishing who everyone is - the bad guys drip
malevolence, while the good guys dance in gay meadows. It is not until the
second half that the politics and intrigue really get going.
The film opens in England, circa 1550s. The country is divided, half of the population pledging allegiance to the childless catholic Queen Mary who is dying, while the other half attempt to place their protestant liege, Elizabeth, on the throne.
Mary dies before providing an heir so the monarchy automatically passes to Elizabeth. However, she inherits a rebellious court keen to see her removed and a catholic monarch installed. Fortunately for Elizabeth, there are not enough candidates for the job. While, the evil Duke of Norfolk plots to put himself and Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne, Elizabeth's supporters rush around trying to find her a suitable international king.
The crux comes when she declares she is only interested in her English lover, Lord Robert Dudley. When her enemies learn of this, they try to drive a wedge between them. And from this premise the real intrigue flows.
In terms of characterisation, the film scores some hits and some misses. Some curious casting decisions undermine a few of the characters - working class mainstay Kathy Burke moves to the opposite end of the social spectrum to play Queen Mary, Brit comic Angus Deayton has an unnecessary cameo, while Eric Cantona seems an odd choice, although his performance seems adequate.
As to the main characters, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is well charted from gamboling youth to ice-hard queen. The black loyalty of Sir Francis Wolsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is tested time and again and never found wanting, allowing him to grow from mistrusted bodyguard to Queen's adviser.
Unfortunately the Queen's enemies are so numerous it is difficult to focus on one. Michael Hirst, the writer, chooses the Duke of Norfolk as the chief villain but we never really learn why, or what his plans, beyond unseating Elizabeth, are. Christopher Ecclestone plays the Duke with the right amount of menace but we are never truly intimidated by his smouldering glare. Lord Robert (Joseph Fiennes) is an equally confused character. Is he guilty of the crimes he is accused of? Does he love the queen? Some of his behaviour suggests he does not, yet he constantly returns to her claiming he does. The uncertainty generated by Lord Robert is compounded by the fact that Joseph Fiennes does not belong in this film.
Beyond the characters, many of the films finest moments come in the form of the brightly coloured set pieces - when the court takes to the boat lake, the arrival of the french prince and the coronation. Some of the blacker scenes also serve very well - the aftermath of the battle, the plotting in the Vatican.
Despite the fine art direction, what we are eventually left with is a sumptuous, well made film let down by a slow start and a few undefined characters.
The acting is superb as is the choreography. A very da Vinci-like use of like and dark in comparing the young and innocent Elizabeth with the corrupt and conspiracy ridden "royal court". Very compelling and interesting as the new queen, who is thrust, almost against her wish, into power, learns the nature of the beast she must tame and then rule. It may not be a blockbuster of an event, but you just don't find this level of acting in Hollywood. Yet, taken as a whole, the story reminded me of the Godfather, yet it takes place some 450 years in the past.
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