By Jess Lomas
March 26, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!
One should not look to Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth for an accurate history lesson, nor expect to find a faultless cinematic masterpiece. Rather, expect a delectable costume drama with superior performances.
Following the death of King Henry VIII in 1547, the crown of England is passed to Edward VI, who perishes shortly afterwards. Henry’s eldest daughter Mary then ascends the throne; a childless Catholic, she runs her country into the ground, depleting its treasury and burning Protestants to death in her pursuit for national religious purity.
Mary’s Protestant sister Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), the bastard child of King Henry and Anne Boleyn, is next in the line of succession to the throne. Despite being advised to try Elizabeth for treason, Mary cannot sentence her sister to death, and so, after Mary’s own death, it is Elizabeth who becomes the new Queen of England.
The feature, written by Michael Hirst (The Tudors), follows the four years between the passing of Queen Mary and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, a period in which multiple attempts were made on Elizabeth’s life, where she was continually advised to marry and stabilise her nation’s security, and her personal love affair with Robert, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes) took a back seat to her attempts to create harmony between warring religions. As a feminist tale, Elizabeth is inspirational in its message of a woman’s dedication to duty and country, and it is Blanchett’s delivery of this that impresses most. As a historical representation, it colours outside the lines.
By all accounts Elizabeth is an exquisite picture; it’s dark and moody, impeccably lit with inspirational costumes and art direction, and has fine supporting performances from Geoffrey Rush as Elizabeth’s trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham, Christopher Eccleston as the Duke of Norfolk, and Richard Attenborough as Sir William Cecil.
The trouble with a movie that garners considerable awards attention, and watching said movie some fifteen years after its release, is that viewer expectations are unusually high, making them exceptionally hard to meet. Despite the positive notes the film hits, Elizabeth leaves a quiet impression rather than thrilling on initial viewing.
Elizabeth is available on Quickflix.