2 December 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Let’s get two things out of the way from the off. I haven’t seen the first Elizabeth movie. I do know about, I have heard of it, and I know that it garnered Cate Blanchett an Academy Award, and it is – supposedly – brilliant. Still, I was also told that the second film functioned perfectly adequately on its own. But then again, when a movie is shoved so far up its own backside, it simply fails to function at all. Second, I’m not exactly a history buff, and thusly many of the historical inaccuracies that my more history-minded friends have been pointing out have entirely eluded me. So this’ll be an evaluation based entirely on its merit as a film. And disappointingly, it falls rather flat.

The bizarre thing is that the movie is infinitely inferior to the sum of its own parts. There are things about it that absolutely scream quality at the viewer – the sumptuous set and costume design, the charged performances from most of the actors involved, the grand and sweeping vistas of sixteenth century England, Scotland and Spain. But somewhere along the line it loses all cohesion and devolves into a very pretty mess.

This is mostly down to director Shekhar Kapur, and somewhat down to cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. The former is at fault for allowing himself to get rather carried away with the whole thing, escalating it to ridiculous proportions when it should have been a rather more intimate tale of a grand and testing time for a great woman. The latter, the bastard, did everything in his power to make me feel sea-sick, and almost managed it with a swirling, 360-degree spin of a set of turquoise spiral stairs that almost had me heaving out my lunch. Never since Domino have I actually felt physically ill thanks to camera work, but well done, Remi, you’ve managed it.

This isn’t to say that this was so over-whelming that the good-points of the movie completely sailed over my head. Blanchett is fascinating as the under-fire monarch, persecuted from all sides and yet somehow able to maintain her veneer of calm. It’s exemplified by a moment when one of her closest friends betrays her, and her scream of rage and sadness is truly haunting. If there is such a thing as a truly Oscar-worthy performance, this is certainly one of them, and if there’s a been a better performance in such a lacklustre film, I’ll eat my hat and proclaim myself a Dutchman.

And amid the confused mess that is the film’s visual narrative, there are some strikingly iconic pieces of imagery. Particularly of the Queen herself, sitting regal amidst the chaos that is her court and realm. But the problem with them is that it’s almost like Kapur is trying too hard to make them iconic – seeing as these moments seem to appear thick and fast – and thus their clout is lessened somewhat upon the fourteenth viewing of such a remarkable piece of imagery within five minutes of the last one.

All in all, Elizabeth: The Golden Age smacks more of Lizzie: The Only-Vaguely-Decent Years; for all its pomp and drama, it just fails to engage at anything other than a purely superficial level. And even then, it has a tendency to make me feel rather ill. Only worth it for Blanchett’s performance; if you’re not interested in that, avoid.

Ross' Rating: 5

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