Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Now I haven’t seen the first film Elizabeth, so there aren't going to be any comparisons in this review, and to be honest any comparison should be a single paragraph and not throughout the review. The film should be compared uniquely, and that it is.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the second film to look at the life of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, in this film we look at her involvement with Walter Raleigh, the ordering of the execution of the Queen of Scotland, and the battle with the Spanish Armada. These were decisive times and for two of the three events, huge moments in history, and presumably huge moments in the film
There are a number of things that deserve a special mention about this film that are apparent from the opening to the closing scene, the cinematography, the direction, the costumes and the music. All are superb and all make up what sets Elizabeth: The Golden Age apart from other films, particularly others in the same genre.
There really is nothing to expand on with these, as they are all nigh on perfect and really make the setting, make you believe in the period without the need for huge set recreations, and bring the story to life in front of you.
There’s one thing that outshines all these areas though, and that is Cate Blanchett. She gives an absolutely stunning performance that stirs all the emotions within you, and at times brings them right to the surface. She can underplay the character beautifully and then turn it on and pour out the emotion in scenes that bring forth anger, sorrow and self doubting.
I honestly believe that her performance is deserving of an Oscar, I'd be interested to see if the first Elizabeth would be equally as deserving. Yet again she confirms that she is one of the very top actresses in film today, and she can so easily command a role, especially one so difficult as this.
The journey of Elizabeth is wonderful to watch and she helps bring alive the character through the opening strength, her fading and eventual rebuilding. During the time where her character fades we can see her filled with self doubt and played with such human frailty, which really gives the character depth and a strong reality. When she finds her new strength the difference in her character is palatable from the opening scenes. Rather than a distanced and cold character we see someone with a stonger sense of wisdom and self belief. It’s a great transformation to see, and wonderfully portrayed by Cate Blanchett.
What some may find surprising is that the other great performance is the all too short appearance of Samantha Morton giving perhaps the most impassioned performance of the film. Her accent was wonderful, something that all too often fails when non-Scottish people are playing Scottish roles, and she really does come across as regal and filled with self belief. I loved her performance and her role, and I wish we had seen much more of her.
There are many other talented actors and actresses in the film, but I really feel they don’t get that much to do. They are a victim of the two big roles in the film as they really do eat up the screen. Abbie Cornish gives a good performance, as does Geoffrey Rush, but both seem criminally underused, and that statement applies true for Rhys Ifans. The Spanish King and Ambassador are also played well by Jordi Mollà and William Houston.
You may be wondering where Clive Owen comes in the acting scale of this film, and there’s a reason I’ve left him so late, that’s because his performance isn’t that good. In fact at times it’s positively pantomime, such as when he’s aboard any ship, and wooden, such as…well, most other scenes.
There are a few moments where his performance is a little less flat than normal, and when he delivers his speech to the Queen talking of what it is to explore and find new land, he does begin to show his talent. However this seems to be the only scene he’s restrained his performance in and given some emotion to. Other than that his role is pretty poor, and he’s not helped by its place in the storyline.
There are some key areas to the story which segment the film. There’s the Mary Queen of Scots plot, the Walter Raleigh friendship, and the Spanish Armada, and while the Mary and Spanish sections are strong, the Raleigh section is weak and seems misplaced amongst the rest of the dramatic storyline.
There seems to be no other purpose with this than to show the Queen in a state of weakness, her human emotions of friendship, love, jealousy, and spite, and to allow her to build them up again. Yet there’s so much time spent on this build up that ultimately leads nowhere. The whole storyline with Raleigh seems superfluous and unnecessary, and it could have been drastically reduced to aid the film.
Indeed there are other, smaller, storylines which are harshly edited down, such as when the Queen’s aide, played by Abbie Cornish, visits her cousin who is quickly betrayed. There’s no introduction, no emotional investment, and no explanation to the cousin. The character merely appears, is captured and is tortured, and we as the audience couldn’t even care, and we’re left confused as to whom he is, and what is happening.
Another scene that shows how the editing elicits some confusion with the audience, is when the Queen seems to wake from some sort of dream, and sees events which happen within the stories reality but seem like a dream, except she sees to be awoke, it’s all rather confusing and you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be getting from moments like these.
There are also the early scenes where we return to the plotters against the Queen and we see the dying and hanging of red cloths, this seemed to be made reference to almost every time that we returned to them, as more and more are prepared, and yet there was no explanation of what they were for. It seemed as though they were unimportant. With hindsight from almost the very last scene I can only assume this was a reference to the Spanish court who were also wearing red.
As you can tell, there are a number of little sequences and scenes that should have been made more of but seem to have been sacrificed for the building of the Raleigh storyline, which really didn’t deserve the prominence it received.
Instead I would have loved to have seen more of the Mary Queen of Scots storyline. The build up to the plot twist could have been ramped up even more than it was and allowed us to see more of the two Queens, for this was without a doubt the strongest and most attractive part of the story.
Another area that cutting back Raleigh would have given the film time to explore was the approach of, and battle with the Spanish Armada. The battle had to be the poorest handled section of the film.
The build up to the Armada arriving was superbly executed, and really did bring out the gravity of the situation, the overwhelming odds and impending catastrophe that the English faced, but the battle itself was confused and over all too quickly.
We see glimpses of the battle about to begin, either with far off shots of the ships or close up shots of those captaining them, but before they engage we are transported back to the command tent where a note is received that describes the outcome of the battle.
This happens a few times, when the fire ships are sent in we cut back to the command tent before anything is seen and are told that merely two ships are alight.
However, and this is the turning point, we cut back to see Raleigh piloting a ship single handed, setting it alight, and leaping off just as it crashes into one other ship. Back to the tent again and we hear that their fleet is alight and the battle is won. What, just with one ship? Where was the battle? Where was the war?
This just drops the great build up pre-battle with an almighty crash, and during these cuts back and forth there’s no tension or suspense. We start to approach a significant moment and are just pulled back to have the outcome explained by reading out a note. This is hardly exciting or suspenseful.
For me, and Louise, the ending was totally mishandled and indeed ruined. In effect the Spanish Armada just buckled and there was no feeling of the terrible losses or the incredible odds that faced them, and to have the results of each attack announced after we’d seen the engagement begin was a great let down.
I felt this would have been a much better film had the Raleigh storyline been shortened, the battle strengthened, and the dual Queen storyline built up more – you’ll understand why when you see the film and the ultimate outcome of the plot.
Still for those failings and some of the poor editing, the music, direction, cinematography, and superb performances from Blanchett and Morton really do raise the film up. This has inspired me to see her performance in the first film, and I would really like to see her take the character up once again. More than that, I would love to see Samantha Morton play Mary Queen of Scots in a film of her life.