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(1998) (Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush) (R)

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Drama: The daughter of Henry VIII becomes the Queen of England and must deal with various forces of betrayal and conspiracy that threaten her and the throne.
In mid 16th century England, Queen Mary I (KATHY BURKE), a zealous Catholic, is sick and dying. Without any children and concerned that her half-sister, Elizabeth (CATE BLANCHETT), a Protestant, is the heir to her throne, she attempts to have her younger sibling executed for religious treason, but can't bring herself to sign the final order.

Upon her sister's death, Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England, and her childhood sweetheart, Lord Robert Dudley (JOSEPH FIENNES), rejoices that his lover is now the most powerful woman in the land. Her new advisor, Sir William Cecil (RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH), however, informs her of the country's woes. England is bankrupt, the army is all but gone, and the French Queen, Mary of Guise (FANNY ARDANT), is amassing troops on the Scottish border.

To make matters worse, Elizabeth's religious preference has divided the country, and the nation's powerful bishops are determined to block any of her plans. Compounding her dilemma is the fact that others inside the court, including the scheming Duke of Norfolk (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON), turn out to be just as troublesome and dangerous as her more clearly defined enemies.

To ease the situation and insure her safety and longevity on the throne, Cecil informs Elizabeth that she must marry and bear offspring, with her options being her dead sister's husband, King Phillip II of Spain, or the French Duc d' Anjou (VINCENT CASSEL), Mary of Guise's nephew.

Meeting with the ambassadors from both countries, Elizabeth weighs her options, but finds that she really loves Robert, a man everyone believes not fit to be her husband. As tensions continue to rise and threats are made on her life, Elizabeth, once a naive and unsure leader, takes matters into her own hands and, with the help of Sir Francis Walsingham (GEOFFREY RUSH), a once exiled spy, does what she must to remain in power.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast or of historical dramas, it's not very likely.
For violence and sexuality.
  • CATE BLANCHETT plays the Queen of England, an unsure royal neophyte who carries on a sexual affair with her lover, but eventually becomes a strong, confidant and powerful ruler.
  • JOSEPH FIENNES plays Elizabeth's lover, a secretly married man who has a long-term affair with her and eventually conspires against her.
  • CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON plays a scheming Duke who plans to overthrow Elizabeth's reign.
  • RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH plays Elizabeth's trusted aide who's concerned with her, and the nation's, well being.
  • GEOFFREY RUSH plays a once exiled, but recently returned spy whose loyalty to the Queen means he must perform some unsavory actions, including killing and torturing people.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    To set matters straight right away, this clearly isn't your father's historical costume drama. Playing out like an episode of "Masterpiece Theater" as filtered through "The Godfather," this sumptuous looking production has enough violence, sex, treachery and treason to make the Coppola's and Scorsese's of the world proud.

    While not quite up to snuff with those director's films, and probably raising the ire of historians with its questionable historical accuracy, this is what might best be described as a stereotypical Merchant Ivory production on steroids.

    Working from the notion that most moviegoers probably remember Henry VIII, but little, if anything else about the 16th century British monarchy, Indian director Shekhar Kapur ("Bandit Queen") has reportedly taken liberties with the real events to get them to fit into his two-hour film. For historical purists this may be a problem, but it's certainly not the first time history's been altered for film, and clearly won't be the last.

    Besides, the film isn't intended to be shown in high school history classes and thus should mostly be judged on whether it works as a cinematic experience. As such, while the historical condensation often creates something of a confusing plot, for the most part the film works quite well. Although it most likely won't play across the lands in the nation's multiplexes, it should find a receptive audience in the art house circuit.

    Featuring an amazing production design and equally well-crafted costumes (from John Myhre and Alexandra Byrne, both of whose efforts should receive Oscar nominations), the film never fails to be mesmerizing to watch. Beyond the 1970's style infusion of violence and sex, Kapur has also given the film something of a contemporary feel by the way it's been shot.

    As photographed by cinematographer Remi Adefarasin ("Truly, Madly, Deeply," and the second unit photography for "The English Patient") the film has the prerequisite sumptuous genre look, but also contains more modern jump cuts and sweeping camera movements that counter the "stuffiness" that often causes most average moviegoers to dread or even avoid such costume dramas.

    It also doesn't hurt that the film unfolds like a conspiracy thriller. Focusing on a short -- and possibly the most combustible -- period of the Queen's forty plus year reign, the film is filled with shady characters, shifting alliances, and other backstabbing -- both figurative and literal -- to keep the audience continually guessing about the film's particulars.

    Although such maneuvering and the presence of enigmatically drawn characters occasionally gives the film something of a confusing and jumbled feel, for the most part it's an engaging, albeit methodically paced dramatic thriller.

    Of course, for the film to work the title character has to be portrayed just right. While it's near impossible to judge the historical accuracy of her portrayal of the Queen, actress Cate Blanchett delivers a stellar performance in the role. Ranging from her early, naive days to dealing with the treachery surrounding her, to finally asserting her control, Blanchett ("Oscar and Lucinda," "Paradise Road") is always engaging to watch. Good in the little seen "Oscar and Lucinda," this may be Blanchett's breakout role.

    Also good, but hard to judge due to the way his nebulous character is drawn, Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush ("Shine," "Les Miserables") gives a hard-edged performance as the Queen's spy, a lethal precursor to the latter, more debonair incarnation of that fellow named Bond. Perfectly mysterious, we see early on that he won't hesitate to solve problems with force, and Rush appropriately keeps him enigmatic, but fierce throughout most of the production, always keeping the audience guessing about his true allegiance.

    Supporting performances are solid across the board. Christopher Eccleston ("Jude," "A Price Above Rubies") is properly menacing as the Duke who wishes to dethrone the Queen, Joseph Fiennes ("Stealing Beauty") is good as Elizabeth's longtime suitor, and actor/director Richard Attenborough (the "Jurassic Park" films and the director of "Gandhi") is perfect as the Queen's seasoned advisor who truly believes her body, mind and soul belong as much to England as to her.

    With a great deal of it shot amidst various historical locations throughout the United Kingdom, the film manages to capture the proper period feel that perfectly complements the filmmakers' more modern visual take of the story.

    Always compelling and featuring some fine performances from its talented cast, the film may not win any accolades from historians or high school history teachers, but it comes across as a decently crafted variation of the "normally" stuffy costume drama. We give "Elizabeth" a 7 out of 10.

    Given the film's contemporary feel, it clearly doesn't play out like "Masterpiece Theater" or other stereotypical and often quiescent costume dramas. While profanity was not increased for the film (and consists of a few religious-based exclamations), the violent and sexual content of the film is far above what's normally associated with the genre.

    While not as violent or bloody to the extreme as say, "Braveheart," several murders do take place and we also see several freshly decapitated heads on stakes, both of which may be unsettling to some viewers. Several sexual encounters also occur during the film, and while they range in their graphic nature, they do contain movement, nudity and sexually related sounds (and one brief scene shows what appears to be the beginnings of an orgy).

    Beyond that, a great deal of bad attitudes abound, what with everyone scheming to unseat Elizabeth or force her into marriage, and other thematic elements are present such as religious intolerance and prosecution.

    While it's questionable just how many kids will want to see what most will think is nothing but a costume drama (no matter how violent or sexy), you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.

    Of special note for those concerned with full screen flashes of light, some of that occurs during a thunderstorm scene.

  • Various scenes show people drinking from goblets. While the liquid inside is never identified, it's possible it's alcoholic.
  • The scalps of three "heretics" are bloody as guards cut off their hair down to their scalp.
  • A decapitated head poised on a stake is bloody.
  • We see a somewhat bloody, slit throat.
  • We see many dead soldiers (some of whom are bloody) on a battlefield (in some water and on land) after unseen fighting.
  • Elizabeth has blood on her after a man is shot with an arrow.
  • A woman's face is very bloody.
  • A tortured man's head is somewhat bloody.
  • We see a man whose back is bloody (through his torn clothing) as he flogs himself.
  • We see blood on the wall above a man who's just been stabbed to death.
  • Another man's mouth is bloody.
  • We see three freshly decapitated heads impaled on stakes and blood drips from them.
  • Obviously, all of the people involved in conspiracy against Elizabeth have both.
  • Some viewers may not like Walsingham briefly "questioning" whether there's a God or not.
  • It's learned that Robert is secretly married and thus has been carrying on an affair with Elizabeth.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" (and not listed here) may also be tense to some viewers.
  • We see three "heretics" (Protestants) essentially being scalped by guards who then tie them to a pyre that's set on fire, where we then see the fire approaching and eventually engulfing them.
  • A young man holds a knife to Walsingham's throat, but he talks the young man out of using it. He quickly turns the tables, however, and then slits that young man's throat.
  • In a darkened corridor, Elizabeth spots an unrecognizable figure menacingly approaching her.
  • Knife/Ax/Arrows/Poison: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Whore," "You piss yourselves" and "Up yours."
  • None.
  • A mild amount of suspenseful music, along with some recurring ominous tones, play during the film.
  • None.
  • 4 uses of "For God's sakes" and 2 uses of "My God" (1 in subtitles) as exclamations.
  • We hear that Queen Mary may be pregnant (since, as they say in the movie, she's stopped bleeding, and her breasts and belly have grown larger), and that everyone is shocked because she and her husband haven't shared the same bed in some time. We later learn that she has a tumor.
  • A large tapestry on the back of a door shows a nursing mother (and her bare breast).
  • We see a brief sensual scene between Elizabeth and Robert behind a sheer drapery that shows them kissing and caressing along with pleasured reactions on her face.
  • We see a woman's bare breasts as she wears a sheer, see-through outfit.
  • Duc d' Anjou tells Elizabeth (in subtitles): "I dream of the moment when we're naked together in bed....when I can stroke your thigh and even your 'quinny' (spelling?)..."
  • After Duc d' Anjou is told that it's difficult to unlock a woman's heart, he replies, "Unless you have a very big key" (innuendo).
  • Elizabeth enters Duc d' Anjou's quarters where she finds something approaching an orgy (men and women on the floor and we see some bare breasts) and we see Duc d' Anjou dressed in drag (women's clothing).
  • We hear sexual sounds and then see a man having sex with a woman standing up against a wall (with movement).
  • We see another woman's bare breasts.
  • We see another sexual encounter with Norfolk between a woman's legs (and see his bare butt, her bare breasts, and movement).
  • None.
  • Queen Mary and Elizabeth (half-sisters) don't get along, but the Queen does spare Mary's life before her own death.
  • The film's historical accuracy.
  • The division of religion (Catholics vs. Protestants) that nearly destroyed England.
  • What killed Queen Mary (a tumor initially mistaken for pregnancy).
  • We see three "heretics" (Protestants) essentially being scalped by guards who then tie them to a pyre that's set on fire, and we then see the fire approaching and eventually engulfing them.
  • Soldiers/guards strike someone in a crowd and stab another (both briefly seen).
  • A young man holds a knife to Walsingham's throat, but he talks the young man out of using it. However, he quickly turns the tables and then slits that young man's throat.
  • We see many dead soldiers on a battlefield (in water and on land) after an unseen battle.
  • A person is shot and killed with an arrow, and another lands close to Elizabeth.
  • A priest uses a rock to kill a young man whom he believes to be a conspirator (seen from a distance and in the coastal waters).
  • A woman is killed after wearing a dress laced with poison.
  • Walsingham kills a powerful woman (we don't see the act).
  • Walsingham interrogates a man who's hanging upside down. A guard occasionally hits the man, whose face is bloody, with a flaming torch.
  • In a montage of sorts, we see two people killed, a man flogging himself on the back (with bloody results), a bishop is stabbed and killed, and another man's mouth is bloody.
  • We see a man about to be executed (via beheading) with an ax. While we don't see the impact of the final blow, we do see his, and two other mens' decapitated heads stuck on stakes.

  • Reviewed October 30, 1998 / Posted on November 20, 1998

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