Elizabeth, a film written by Michael Hirst and directed by Shekhar
Kapur, chronicles the events leading up to Liz I's accession and the beginning
of her reign, when it was still quite unclear whether she would survive
the appointment. Unfortunately, though accoutered with beautiful production
values and excellent acting, Kapur's Elizabeth drains much life out
of this interesting story, resulting in a dark, ponderous saga that crawls
at times. Moreover, Hirst's script crams many important events of Liz's
life into the film even though it is intended only to capture her first
few years on the throne.
Cate Blanchett (Oscar And Lucinda)
does a fine job as the independent monarch, not only resembling her physically
but putting true emotion and lifeblood into this much-lectured-about historical
figure. Her relationship with Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare In Love), a gentleman
of the court with whom Elizabeth had the closest thing to a romantic affair,
is properly obscured by Kapur; we see that they care deeply for each other
but the idea of sex is only hinted at.
Other standout performances are by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine)
as Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's sinister ally; Fanny Ardant as Mary
of Guise, the war-happy French regent; and Christopher Eccleston as the
Duke of Norfolk, the courtier who plots against Liz throughout the film.
As the short but tumultuous reign of "Bloody" Mary I (Kathy
Burke) comes to an end, the dying queen makes a reconciliation of sorts
with her half-sister, Elizabeth. However, Protestant Liz (Blanchett) does
not agree to continue Mary's allegiance with the Catholic church. Mary's
low approval rating came from her making toast out of hundreds of Protestants,
as is vividly depicted in the opening scene where three such "heretics"
burn at the stake.
After Elizabeth is crowned, the gang-suiting begins, since no one thinks
she can do her job without some testosterone in the house. Prince Phillip
of Spain is the primary candidate, but since the English people detest the
idea of a Spanish ruler, she balks. Another choice is France's Duc d'Anjou
(Vincent Cassel), who actually shows up in person. But when Liz finds him
wearing a dress, she decides marrying him would mean sharing her wardrobe.
She can't marry Dudley, so she dismays everyone by opting for the life of
a bachelorette. And surprise, surprise--it turns out she can make informed
decisions after all.
This film will probably be nominated for an Oscar for best costume design; Alexandra Byrne's impeccable stylings have already been nominated once for Hamlet (1996). As is usual with period dramas, the music (by David Hirschfelder) and production design (by John Myhre) are also very effective and noteworthy. The feel of 16th-century Europe is captured; the mood is right. But Hirst's fiddling with the facts may annoy history buffs, and Kapur's dark interpretation may turn off some mainstream moviegoers. ****
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