The other day I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the follow-up to the first Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett. This one is set during the time of conflict with Spain, and stars Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh.
I made the acquaintance of Sir Walter a couple of years ago at the National Maritime Museum, where I couldn't tear myself away from his terracotta bust. Handsome, yes, and dashing—Tudor women must have been as enthralled by the real thing as I was by the image. Clive Owen plays him very well, a perfect foil to Cate's gracefully aging Elizabeth. (I guess Dame Helen will play her in the next film.)
Visually, the movie is stunning. The costumes, the hair, the settings—all are a feast for the eyes. (Is there an Oscar for hairdressing? This film definitely deserves one.) The interiors are shot at the spacious Wells Cathedral, which looks nothing like I imagine Whitehall would have looked. (Whitehall Palace burned, so it must have been made primarily of wood.) There are other historical inaccuracies, but who cares with such eye candy to drool over?
The dialogue tries to rise to the occasion; it tries too hard, in fact, and comes off stilted. The characters talk like they're making speeches for posterity, not having conversations. But dialogue is a tricky thing—it's very difficult to get it right, which is why Hollywood screenwriters ought to be paid more. Just an idea.
Violence, unfortunately, is to be expected in any film of the period. Samantha Morton, as a not very sympathetic Mary Queen of Scots, predictably loses her head. But Elizabeth's reaction—she calls it a murder—is interesting. I know she was conflicted, but the movie shows her as tortured by the decision to execute her cousin. Perhaps she was; I'd like to think so. Cate's Elizabeth is a benevolent monarch, though as a woman, she's alternately spiteful and sweet.
The film's been criticized as being "over the top", but I find some of the reviews themselves over the top: "smoldering slab of man meat"? (I hear they're looking for scriptwriters in Hollywood.)
Go see it, if you haven't already. It's one film that needs to be seen on the large screen to be appreciated, just for the hair alone.