As Spanish invasion looms, Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) does her best to avoid being known forever as ‘the Virgin Queen’.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is an altogether more lively affair than last year’s dreary Mary: Queen of Scots. It avoids being stuffy and uptight by building up to the Spanish invasion and a climatic final battle, taking more cues from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films than your typical period drama.
Elizabeth’s relationship with lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish) bears more than a passing resemblance to The Favourite. As Elizabeth is courted by a variety of men, she prefers Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) over the numerous princes prepared to take her hand (I’d choose the person who brought me potatoes as well). But when Bess becomes impregnated by him her relationship with the Queen breaks down.
And while it lacks the wit of The Favourite, by turning this tale of royal courtship into an epic complete with an inspirational speech to the troops (although there only seem to be about 30 of them) and culminating in a giant battle, it does a really good job of making history exciting. Under the direction of Shekhar Kapur, sixteenth century England is richly and beautifully brought to life with sumptuous costumes, excellent location shooting and exquisite production design as the full pageantry of Liz’s court is brought to life making excellent use of its $55m budget (that’s $25m less than Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill).
Its biggest problem is that we’re told the invasion is imminent in the opening seconds of the film, so the next two hours largely focus on the soap opera in the foreground as we wait for the ironically long-expected arrival of the Spanish inquisition. But Blanchett has great fun munching through the scenery like chewing tobacco, and is joined by an all-star cast including Tom Hollander, Eddie Redmayne and Rhys Ifans, resulting in a film which feels like a golden age of historical film making all by itself.