Elizabeth is man-tastic

By Nyla Olynyk

In Elizabeth: the Golden Age, Cate Blanchett reprises her role as the Queen in the sequel to the 1998 Academy Award winning Elizabeth. The movie is centred upon England’s famous defeat of the Spanish Armada and the continuing conflict between Protestants and Catholics. We are introduced to an older and wiser Elizabeth in a time when the religious conflict is raging and Elizabeth’s kingdom is being threatened by Phillip II of Spain and Queen Mary of Scots, Elizabeth’s second cousin and a devout Catholic. Elizabeth being still unmarried–therefore referred to as the virgin Queen–is also still being pressured to marry and produce an heir at the age of 50.

A plot is hatched between Phillip II of Spain and Queen Mary of Scots to assassinate Elizabeth and turn the throne over to Queen Mary, who Catholics believe is the rightful heir to the English throne. Queen Mary sends word to the Spanish to go forward with their plan. However, the letters are intercepted by Elizabeth and Queen Mary is sentenced to death as punishment for her treason. This gives Phillip II a valid reason to go to war with England, as they have sentenced to death the rightful heir to the throne and so sparks the beginning of the Spanish Armada’s attacks.

The film is often sidetracked by the factually inaccurate romantic triangle of Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), Elizabeth and Bess, Elizabeth’s favourite lady in waiting. Raleigh returns from the New World with gifts of potatoes, tobacco and gold for the Queen and sparks her interest. Raleigh enjoys this attention, as he believes he will be rewarded for being in the Queen’s good graces and continues a relationship with her. At the same time he becomes interested in the Queen’s lady in waiting Bess.

The movie culminates with the invasion of England by Spain and the battle that ensues. Elizabeth joins her fellow country men on the field and delivers the film’s modified lacklustre version of her famous Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, where she joins them on the field to fight and will “see them in heaven or on the field of victory.” The film continues its inaccurate portrayal of Raleigh as the hero who leads the English to victory and seemingly defeats the Spanish Armada single handily. The film has Raleigh swinging from masts and swimming to safety just as ships collide, when in fact the man was actually not on the battle field at all.

Unfortunately, it is common that sequels disappoint and Elizabeth: the Golden Age is no exception. Director Shekhar Kapur and writers William Nicholson and Michael Hirst attempt to turn this period piece into a blockbuster for the masses and, in doing so, have twisted history to an almost unrecognizable degree. The amazing defeat of the Spanish Armada and the bravery and strength of Elizabeth are overshadowed by the writers’ attempts to give us a classic male hero and turn a period piece into an action movie. The liberties taken by the writers are quite unnecessary, as the history itself is an amazing story which has been lost in an almost unrecognizable film.

The films only saving graces are the outstanding performances of Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Samantha Morton (Mary Queen of Scots) and Jordi Molla (Phillip II). Unfortunately, their performances are lost in a poorly-written screenplay. The film has managed to take the story of one of the most powerful female leaders in history and diminish it into a story of a desperate, lonely and jealous woman who is saved by the male hero.