[Screen It]

(2007) (Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen) (PG-13)

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Drama: Queen Elizabeth I finds herself entranced by a legendary explorer, all while contending with the Spanish wanting to end her Protestant rule of England.
It's 1585 and King Philip II of Spain (JORDI MOLLA) is extending his rule of Catholicism across Europe, but his only impediment is England, run by the protestant Queen Elizabeth I (CATE BLANCHETT), his former sister-in-law. He isn't happy that the Queen has imprisoned her Catholic cousin Mary Stuart (SAMANTHA MORTON) who's next in line to succeed her and thought by many to be deserving of the throne now. Accordingly, the Queen's closest advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (GEOFFREY RUSH), is quick to point out that there's a Catholic conspiracy to have her killed, and that she should produce an heir to keep the throne in her bloodline.

Yet, with lady-in-waiting Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton (ABBIE CORNISH) at her side, the Queen doesn't find any of her potential suitors to her liking. That is, except for British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (CLIVE OWEN) who desires the Queen's favors to finance his next expedition, but also treats her differently than everyone else.

That very attitude and his tales of the New World attract her, but not wanting to get to close, she commands Bess to keep tabs on him, an order she takes both to heart and to body. With Philip II building an impressive armada of warships, and assassination plots running underfoot, the Queen must decide not only how to deal with all of that, but also her conflicted feelings toward Walter.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
For reasons I understand but otherwise entirely escape me, people are fascinated by the personal lives of celebrities and other famous people. Perhaps that has something to do with the have-nots wanting to know what the haves, well, have, and whether deep down they're really just like us, warts and all. Whatever the case, as long as such economic, power, and lifestyle discrepancies exist, the common folk will always be intrigued by what life is like on the other side and whether the grass truly is greener.

That's particularly true, again for nothing beyond ridiculous reasons, regarding the English royal family. While Princess Di somewhat bridged the gap since she kept her connection to the average citizen while living the regal lifestyle, her mother-in-law remained much of a private and highly guarded mystery. That is, until "The Queen" (with Helen Mirren's Oscar winning portrayal of the monarch) gave us various peaks -- whether true to life or purely fictional -- into her behind-closed-doors mindset and demeanor.

Of course, and based on the Roman numeral attached to her title, Queen Elizabeth II wasn't the first sovereign of that name to draw interest. Some four hundred years earlier, her predecessor was also the topic of conversation, no doubt fueled by her moniker, "the virgin queen." Back in 1998, Shekhar Kapur not only put something of a post-modernistic spin on Queen Elizabeth I's ascension to power in "Elizabeth," but he also made a star of Cate Blanchett in the title role.

The two now reunite for the sequel in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," a less well-made and not as entertaining follow-up to the 7-time Oscar nominated pic from nearly a decade ago. While that film was something of a combination of "Masterpiece Theater" and "The Godfather," this one's more of a touchy-feeling experience as we go behind the scenes to take a look at the lady behind the monarch, when her hair's been let down (or more accurately, shown in its true light after the wigs have come off).

Speaking of hairpieces, Blanchett looks most fetching while donning some serious extensions on horseback, covered in armor, as she delivers her famous, pre-battle pep talk to her forces as they prepared for the arrival of the Spanish armada. On August 8, 1588, she told them, "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."

While that contradiction would seem to be good fodder for an examination of one of history's most famous and influential women, Kapur and screenwriter William Nicholson and returning scribe Michael Hirst don't make it as fascinating, compelling, engaging or, worse yet, entertaining, as it could and should have been. Thankfully, Blanchett is still up for the part and delivers a good but not great performance in reprising her previous role, but the behind closed doors material pales in comparison to the public "performances," such as dealing with potential suitors for her love and power.

It certainly doesn't help that Kapur's modernistic directorial style (camera movement, spin around shots, etc. that purposefully clash with the usual staid trappings of the period costume drama) has gone from somewhat fresh and interesting back in '98 to stale and unnecessary in today's cinematic world. Or that Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman's nearly nonstop score threatens to and often succeeds at drowning each and every scene with its bombastic chords.

As much as I like Clive Owen, he sticks out like a sore thumb here playing Sir Walter Raleigh, never transcending the feeling of a contemporary actor dressing up in period garb. Geoffrey Rush fits in far better, but is otherwise pretty much wasted in his role as royal advisor, which also holds true for Rhys Ifans and Jordi Molla in supporting parts.

Abbie Cornish is decent as the lady in waiting (although her fling with Raleigh in light of the Queen's interest in him has too much wasted potential). It's Samantha Morton, however, who does the best with her limited screen time as Mary Queen of Scots, and her last second view up at the throne that could have been hers, if not for the inconvenience of a pending beheading, is priceless.

As to be expected, much of the technical work is outstanding, from the production and set design to the elaborate costumes, all of which will probably garner the film various nominations if not wins. Yet, it's highly unlikely the film's performances, writing, and/or direction will receive the same praise, simply because they're not as good and clearly pale in comparison to the first cinematic reign of this queen. "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 9, 2007 / Posted October 12, 2007

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