Film Review Of Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/30/07
To flee the brats of Halloween, my wife dragged me to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age, even though the reviews I’d seen of it made Halloween, and the need to get out of the house for a night, the only viable excuse to see the film. It is a sequel to a mediocre film from 1998: Elizabeth, which made a star of actress Cate Blanchett. The nearly two hour long sequel is not mediocre- it is bad, Bad, BAD. However, it was not as unenjoyable as Into The Wild was, for it has a camp factor that the humorless Sean Penn film lacks. It is, simply, the historical biopic equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space. If the MST3K guys were still around, this would be a must do film.
The fact is, there’s simply no reason to do a sequel, for there is no attempt to do history accurately- or, failing that, excitingly. There is no attempt to allow Blanchett to strut her stuff as an actress, and a hefty paycheck is the only reason she could possibly have to do this trash, which plays out like a music video amidst really awful CG effects. The director is listed as Shekhar Kapur- a Bollywood hack (not Tupac Shakur), who directed the original film, but he has absolutely no style- or rather a style that is so generic that I could have directed this film by simply letting my ADs do whatever they wanted. The scenes in the film are so at odds with each other, visually, that the only positive thing that can be said of the camerawork is that most people won’t notice its shoddiness, due to the ridiculously bad dialogue the characters spout, written by screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst. It is so bad that I was literally MST3K’ing it to my wife as we watched.
But, the dialogue is not the only atrocity the wretched writerly duo inflict upon the viewer. There’s the whole filmic narrative, which, ostensibly, involves the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1585. The King of Spain (Jordi Mollà), portrayed as a Catholic psychotic, wants to take over England and kill all the Protestants, led by Queen Liz. She has imprisoned her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), and has the hots for explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who bangs one of Liz’s handmaidens, Bess (Abbie Cornish- so nicknamed to differentiate her from the Queen; her name is also Elizabeth), and gets her prego. Here was one of the best scenes in the film- from an MST3K perspective. Two thirds of the way into the film, in a crowded castle girding for war, Bess pulls Wally aside, and I say to my wife, ‘She’s gonna tell Wally she’s ‘with child’’ (note the affected old way of saying ‘knocked up’). Bess tries to speak, Wally says, ‘You’re with child?’ <insert Vaudevillean bada-boom here> Am I good, or what?
Geoffrey Rush plays Liz’s old advisor, Francis Walsingham, and he fusses around a bit, but Franky has little to do except look worried at conspiracies all over the place. Then there is Mary’s henchman, listed in the credits as Robert Reston, although this is nowhere in the film, which assumes a) we intimately know this dizzying array of historical nobodies, and b) that we care for them, mere seconds after they appear onscreen. Oh, yeah, Reston is played by Rhys Ifans, best known from the 2003 Australian film Danny Deckchair. All Danny Deckchair does is cite Biblical nonsense and torture people via his minions, or, rather, Mary’s minions, whom he controls.
The Spaniards routinely have twirly mustaches, and utter threats against Liz and her courtiers, Wally and Liz flirt, then she throws a temper tantrum when she finds out it’s Bess’s ‘tang he really wants, and jails Bess and Wally. That is, until Spanish Phil decides to kick ass and take over England, after Liz lets Mary be beheaded, even though she claims not to want to do it, and agonizes that she’s a murderess now. Now, it seems to me, that as Queen, all she had to do was tell Franky, ‘Yo, homes, let da bitch peace out.’ Instead, she decides to visit a senile old astrologer (the actor’s name I do not care to even look up) who, as I said to my wife- in another of many MST3K moments, should say to her‘I’m a senile old man who utters clichés and banalities to appease my stupid Queen.’ Naturally, after some clichés, Liz gravely states, ‘You are a wise old man, whatever your name is.’ <cue the bada-boom>
Then, the Brits defeat the Spaniards by burning their ships and crashing into the Spanish ships in the English Channel. Wally plays superhero and jumps into the frigid, stormy seas, where he would drown or die of hypothermia inside of three minutes, in reality, but in this film he swims to another ship, as Spanish horses swim above him. Here is where I heard The Doors’ Jim Morrison muttering the words to Horse Latitudes. But, that was only me. Kapur, in all his MTV-drenched sensibility, did not even think to add that apropos touch. Instead, all we get are a squeaky dry Wally, several pointless 360 degree shots of Liz- one of which ends the film, bad CGI, music that, from the first moment of the film, is overwrought and hyperbolic, letting the audience know, long before we should, that something dramatic is coming.
Some critics have lambasted the film as being anti-Catholic, but this is as cogent a critique of the film as stating that Ed Wood- director of the aforementioned Plan 9, was anti-bald men or anti-big-busted sluts, for having two of the ‘heavies’ of that film, Tor Johnson and Vampira, fit those descriptions. Others have pointed out the major historical inaccuracies, and the MTV style editing, which proves that speed is as dull as slowness, when there is no real direction nor need for it. Yet, aside from the bad direction, camerawork, and plot, few critics have even mentioned the atrocious sub-soap opera level acting. Rush is wholly forgettable, Owen walks around like he’s got a hardon he cannot keep in his tights, the Spanish King guy (who cares his real name?) chews scenery like a defrocked priest let loose in a whorehouse, and even the stellar Blanchett has all the acting restraint of a guest starring turn on the old 1960’s era Batman tv show. It would have been more interesting had the film turned out to be the inner fantasy of a mousy librarian who turns out to be Batman’s supervillain of the week.
Then, the audience might care for her- in a guilty pleasure sort of way. As this film is, though, who cares? Just because a character is based upon a historic reality is not a license to care for them more than a fictional character. And, am I really supposed to fear the goofy looking Danny Deckchair as a traitor to the throne? Where are his helium balloons when you need them? At least, then, some of the characters could speak like Donald Duck, or Alvin and the Chipmunks, or whatever that gas makes one sound like.
In retrospect, the only good things about this film were a) we saw it in a spanking new theater, b) aside from me and my wife, there was only an elderly couple in the 100+ seat theater, which allowed me to fart freely, without distracting sneers from those I might offend with bowel scents, and c) it was stadium seating, which meant I could rest my feet up. Other than that, this film was the Al Pacino Scarface, sans drugs and bad Cuban accents but plus gaudy costumes: i.e.- bad, but highly mockable. Can I recommend such a melodrama? I don’t know, I really don’t- unless shadow puppeteering is your bag. Move over, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, here comes Lousy Liz and the Spanish Armada!
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]
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