Nine years ago, Cate Blanchett swept to an Oscar nomination in Shekhar Kapur’s enormously impressive Elizabeth. It was one of seven nominations for this excellent film. Next year, you can probably still expect Cate Blanchett to get a nomination — she’s magnificent, but then it’s Cate Blanchett so you already knew that — but that’s where it’s going to end because, aside from Blanchett, there’s bugger all else to recommend this strange mish-mash of a film.
Maybe that’s a little harsh. The other performances are excellent. Admittedly Clive Owen’s Walter Raleigh comes across as less the discoverer of the potato as the 16th Century’s answer to Indiana Jones (stand by for Walter Raleigh action figures in the shops. Maybe), but Geoffrey Rush is as good as ever, Samantha Morton makes an excellent Mary Stuart and Rhys Ifans proves that he can act as a sinister Catholic fundamentalist. The parallels between Elizabeth’s biggest dilemma — the growing strength of Spain and their desire to remove the ‘heretic’ Queen of England from the throne — and today’s war on terror is obvious. Painfully so, thanks to Kapur’s disappointing direction, which replaces the first film’s nuance and subtlety with the cinematic equivalent of a trowel.
There is some fine observation present, in the shape of Elizabeth’s love for Raleigh and her need to choose between life as a woman or life as a queen. That part of the story is stunning, ditto the build-up of the Catholic presence, lead by Rhys Ifans’ as Robert Reston, a devout English Catholic working to remove the Queen. Ifans is magnetic and terrifying ... and then Kapur appears to leave the resolution of that subplot on the cutting room floor, in favour of shots of Sir Walter Raleigh diving of blazing boats and being an all round movie hero. Thanks to Blanchett et al, Elizabeth is very watchable but it’s to little overall effect. Perhaps they’re already planning the extended director’s cut DVD?