Blanchett's acting is good enough, but none of her supporting cast do much more than deliver wooden lines with no sentiment. Rush, who was such a powerful figure in the earlier movie, is not much more than window dressing here. He has little to say, little to do, and adds no drama to the story. Owen is stiff and unconvincing. Perhaps the best is the Spanish king who at least is interesting. Or maybe Tom Hollander as Mary's jailer: he has only a few lines but he delivers them with intensity and makes them count. The rest seem to have had a really bad time of it.
And as with most lousy movies, this one dies because of its story, or lack thereof. The script has a mix of equal parts love, family, jealousy, religion, politics, intrigue, militaria, and does none of them justice. The battle scenes look phony and unconvincing; there is the hackneyed scene of the great speech before the big battle, but the battle never happens. The love stories are never convincing (neither one of them), and we never sympathize with either of the heroines. There is some smattering of religious thought thrown in, along with anachronistic sentiments of freedom triumphing over the inquisition, but the real issues (Catholicism vs. Protestantism) are never touched upon. One might think love of one's native land would be a theme in such a picture, but it's hardly even mentioned. There are so many minor subplots I can't even remember them all, and none of them amount to much of anything. Oh yes, Mary Queen of Scots, she makes a few cameo appearances as well, and we spend many minutes in lurid anticipation of her beheading, but then that too seems to have no connection with anything else.
Seems like the director/screenwriter couldn't choose which story they wanted to dramatize, so they tried to dramatize all five at once and ended up with a pointless hodge-podge.
I hate to admit it, but I was ready to walk out about halfway through but was too embarrassed. This from a guy who loves historical period films and who has the original "Elizabeth" near the top of the all-time list. Apparently the genius of the first film has completely eluded the makers of the second.
I give it 3/10.