Having read such negative reviews of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I must have set my expectations so low that it seemed much better than it was given credit for.
In 1585, as suitor after suitor is passed casually over, Walter Raleigh arrives at court having discovered the New World, and christened it after the Virgin Queen. While he gets closer to Elizabeth, she is dealing with plots to assassinate her, plots spearheaded by Mary, Queen of Scots.
Tense relations between the Protestant English and Catholic Spanish crowns come to a head when Mary loses hers, and the Spanish Armada begins its assault on the English Channel. By then, Raleigh has lost all favour with the Queen by impregnating and marrying her favourite maid, but he is released from prison to lead the woefully outnumbered English fleet to victory.
That’s the wonderful thing about historical movies, reviewers do not have to worry about spoiling the ending. However I could be taking a liberty in referring to the sequel as historical, as the liberties it took with history make The Tudors look accurate.
While purists may well gloat at the sight of Elizabeth astride a white horse in full armour addressing her troops at Tilbury (for the record, she did address her troops at Tilbury while wearing a breastplate), it was nonetheless a moving and uplifting scene, if a tad Hollywood. There could be no doubt of the inspiration it gave to her soldiers.
In all honesty, the movie is driven by Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance. She is rage and fire, wit and humour, yet fearful and vulnerable. The torment she experienced on sending her cousin Mary to the block, and a deeply intimate, personal moment when she held her maid’s newborn baby were two of many highlights. Why she did not win one of her many Best Actress nominations for the role is a mystery.
Samantha Morton gives a subtle, short, yet intense showing as Mary, and although Clive Owen did his best as Raleigh, aside from his flowery recitations about life at sea, did not fully explain why Elizabeth took to him as she did.
The cinematography was gorgeous. Even Eilean Donan Castle looked more picturesque in the Scottish gloom than it did on this reviewer’s visit last year in similar weather conditions.
Yet it seems that all this lush scene setting slashed the budget for the battle of the Armada. Director Shekhar Kapur never quite shows the intensity and depth of the fight at sea that was, as the movie itself states, the most humiliating event in Spanish naval history. After almost an hour and a half of building up to it, the whole thing is over in five minutes. It looks good for the first minute, but if you want a decent sea battle, try Pirates of the Caribbean.
Grounded in history it is not. However, if like me, you are fed up of all the recent Spanish sporting victories, and Spanish banks coming to our financial rescue; The Golden Age does a rather good job both of reminding us of the great superpower that Britain once was to be able to win against the odds, and making us wonder just what the hell happened. It’s either this, or trying to catch a re-showing of Andy Murray beating Nadal at the US Open earlier this month.