A mature Queen Elizabeth endures multiple crises late in her reign including court intrigues, an assassination plot, the Spanish Armada, and romantic disappointments.A mature Queen Elizabeth endures multiple crises late in her reign including court intrigues, an assassination plot, the Spanish Armada, and romantic disappointments.A mature Queen Elizabeth endures multiple crises late in her reign including court intrigues, an assassination plot, the Spanish Armada, and romantic disappointments.
The set-up is rich with possibilities only partially realized on screen. Protestant England is on its knees, as Roman Catholic Spain has become Europe's most powerful country. Now in her early fifties, Elizabeth is vulnerable since Phillip II of Spain is intent on conquering England and especially because she has not married and produced an heir. Next in line is her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, a devout Roman Catholic imprisoned in a castle in Northamptonshire. Elizabeth has proved to be a tolerant ruler as she allows her country's Roman Catholics to maintain their religious beliefs, even though they see Mary as the only rightful Queen. In the meantime, Sir Walter Raleigh has just returned from the New World and stimulated Elizabeth's passion for adventure and her long-dormant desire for romance. Complicating matters is Elizabeth's devoted lady-in-waiting, Bess, a comely beauty who attracts Raleigh's attention. Just as this standard triangle is established, there is a threat on Elizabeth's life known historically as the Babington Plot. Mary is beheaded for her connection to the plot, which gives Philip free rein to gain the Pope's approval to attack England. Elizabeth inspires her troops to face off with the much larger Spanish Armada, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It's no surprise that Cate Blanchett commands the screen in the title role and does her best to fill in the blanks left by the routine script. She manages to imbue the Queen with a hidden vulnerability at which comparatively imperious predecessors like Bette Davis and Glenda Jackson merely hint. The one drawback is that she is too young for the role, a point emphasized by the periodic and somewhat conceited use of flashbacks from the previous film in which her appearance has not changed significantly despite the make-up. Geoffrey Rush returns from the first film as Elizabeth's adviser, Sir Francis Walsingham, but he has less to do this time. As Raleigh, Clive Owen has no problem playing a dashing figure, but he seems more like a romantic's fabrication of what a bodice-ripping swashbuckler should be. Speaking with a strange burr, Samantha Morton has precious few scenes as the fanatical but forgiving Mary, and her pouty face and petulant manner seem at odds with previous characterizations. As Philip, Jordi Mollà is forced to play the king as a religious zealot, while Abbie Cornish's Bess strikes me as far too contemporary in manner to be credible as a lady-in-waiting, especially with the ongoing hints of lesbianism and a soft porn-like lovemaking scene with Raleigh.
Guy Dyas' production design, Alexandra Byrne's costumes and Remi Adefarasin's cinematography are all impressive in their splendor and meticulous detail, though I found the music by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman far too intrusive. There are several extras with the 2008 DVD release starting with Kapur's commentary track, often insightful but excessively verbose. An eleven-minute making-of featurette is included, of course, but it is pretty standard with plenty of now-and-then comparisons with the 1998 film. Three other shorts are included one on Dyas' intensive work on the production design, one on the recreation of the climactic battle with a mix of ship replicas and CGI, and one on the actual locations used for the filming. There are nine minutes of deleted and extended scenes including one that too-realistically shows Mary's decapitated head. None of these extras helps make the experience of watching this film any more involving.
- Mar 5, 2008