The History Place - Movie Review

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place

This is the lavish sequel to Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the young Elizabeth some nine years ago. On the silver screen Elizabeth: The Golden Age has leaped a quarter century forward to the time of the Spanish Armada. While Ms Blanchett has moved gracefully into her late thirties, the Virgin Queen of 1583 has attained her early fifties. Just as a dollar was really a dollar during the Great Depression, fifty was really fifty in the 16th century. Fortunately for Cate and her fans, she is forced only to complain of lines around the eyes, "laugh lines," as her handmaiden assures her.

Elizabeth actually has little to laugh about. The King of Spain, a devout Catholic and a megalomaniac fattened with New World gold, seeks European hegemony. Her Catholic cousin Mary Stuart, under house arrest in Scotland, covets her throne. And her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, (wonderfully reprised in this sequel by Geoffrey Rush) is relentless in his efforts to find her a husband. Indeed, a bit of comic relief is provided for the beleaguered queen, as well as for filmgoers, when she is courted by a teen-aged princeling, whom with motherly concern she brushes off to his bed when the rigors of a long royal banquet tucker him out. "Have my doctors assure the people their queen is still fertile," she orders Walsingham, as she puts thoughts of wedlock aside again.

Enter Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), whom we first see in a reenactment of the legendary moment when the privateer threw his cloak into a puddle at Her Majesty's feet. Walsingham reacts like some Elizabethan secret service agent: "Guards, seize him." Unruffled, Raleigh smirks charmingly. The queen is smitten. Whatever the historical Elizabeth's sexual peccadilloes might have been, in this retelling, Blanchett and Owen never move beyond a lingering kiss. Rather, Raleigh's heart is won by ER's favorite lady-in-waiting, the beautiful Bess, who winds up pregnant and married (in that order), before a wrathful, jealous queen learns of the liaison. Thus Raleigh is clapped in irons--but only briefly.

History buffs will particularly like Walter Raleigh's court debut, when he presents Her Majesty with a cornucopia of gifts from the portion of the New World which he has gallantly christened "Virginia." "If I wed, will you change the name to Consuminia?" the queen gamely inquires. Other exotic items include tobacco; later we see the queen and Miss Bess toking up in the privacy of the royal bedchamber. Most importantly, Raleigh presents a chest of Spanish doubloons, outraging the Spanish ambassador. How could Elizabeth not ultimately forgive this charming rogue of almost anything?

Following a series of intrigues and intelligence gambits, including the inevitable torture scenes (which make Alberto Gonzales's infamous memo on interrogation of terrorists read like a Boy Scout handbook), Elizabeth's execution of her traitorous cousin provides the Spanish monarch the excuse he needs to launch his mighty armada toward England.

Elizabeth needs her Raleigh, now Sir Walter, on the high seas, doing what he does best. In fact, she orders all the prisons opened and their occupants placed under arms. "It's their England, too," she tells Walsy, as she calls her right-hand henchman. I doubt that many women can look good in a suit of armor. Cate Blanchett is one of them. Mounted on a white stallion, her armor sparkling in the sunshine of a rare cloudless day on the cliffs of Dover, she exhorts her troops. "If the armies of hell come, they shall not pass. We will meet again in heaven or on the field of victory." The decisive battle is fought on the high seas, where Mother Nature seemingly joins the English team to drive the unwieldy Iberian galleons onto a rocky Irish shore.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a lush costumer in the style of A Man for All Seasons and numerous predecessor Elizabethan epics. The queen has been portrayed previously by Bette Davis (twice), Glenda Jackson (also two times), Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. For my money, Jackson's 1972 portrayal ranked as the best to date. Was Elizabeth really a Virgin Queen? "Not the way I play her," winked Glenda at the time.

Blanchett presents a more conflicted queen in sharp contrast to Jackson's cocky monarch. This Elizabeth can quake in fear, consult her astrologer for consolation, and cry like any woman. At times, the new rendition of the classic story lumbers a bit in the retelling. But for my money, Blanchett's Elizabeth is worth the price of admission.

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sexuality and nudity.

Jim Castagnera is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. His new novel, dealing with 19th and 21st century terrorism, is available at

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Official Website
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