ondon, 1554. England is rife with intrigue.
Elizabeth, born of royal lineage (the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn),
imprisoned by her half- sister Mary, when she is 16, is swept onto the throne and crowned Queen of England at 23.
To survive, Elizabeth must suss out hidden agendas in her court, on the battlefield, in the church,
and in those closest to her.
The male-dominated ruling class would appear to have the advantage,
but Elizabeth will deploy whatever means necessary to keep, or take, what is rightfully hers.
This young woman of intelligence and vitality will toughen herself into the imposing icon of legend...
MPAA Rating: R for violence and sexuality.
`Elizabeth' is a jewel of historical drama
Rating: (R; violence, sexuality)
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes.
Director: Shekhar Kapur.
Time: 124 minutes.
Playing at: National Amusements, The Esquire.
BY MARGARET A. McGURK The Cincinnati Enquirer
Indian director Shekhar Kapur showed his affinity for strong females in Bandit Queen, a gripping historical tale of a rebellious woman willing to kill to survive.
He brings the same energy to his first English-language film about another woman who wasn't afraid to exercise power on her own behalf. Elizabeth, a sumptuous, romantic costume drama, is set in the 16th century in the early days of the reign of Britain's Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
It was a treacherous era of rivalry between Protestants and Catholics, with harsh penalties for the losers. When the film opens, the fanatic Catholic Queen Mary I (Kathy Burke) is in power, burning Protestants at the stake _ a harrowing spectacle that sets a tone of deadly peril for the rest of the film.
Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) ascends a throne beset by danger, which most of her advisers claim she could relieve if only she would marry. But she rejects political suitors and manipulates her counselors to accommodate her strategies.
Chief players among men who would control the queen are the ambitious Duke of Norfolk, played with fierce menace by Christopher Eccleston, the cautious counselor William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), and the wily, pragmatic spy, Francis Walsingham, rendered with the deadly calm of a viper by Geoffrey Rush.
Elizabeth proves a skilled politician herself, keeping the conflicting marriage factions off-balance, as she conducts a lusty affair with Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).
The movie takes the position that Elizabeth assumed her famous persona as the ``Virgin Queen'' in a calculated effort to co-opt the devotion of Catholics to the Virgin Mary. We see her literally transform herself, even while she secures her rule by eliminating her most dangerous enemies.
Mr. Kapur and screenwriter Michael Hirst attack the politics and the soap opera with enthusiasm and verve, well matched by the imposing Ms. Blanchett, whose Elizabeth is breathtakingly beautiful and fearsomely willful.
Production designer John Myhre plays a role almost as important as the star, with costumes and settings so dense with color and rich with detail that the effect is virtually hypnotic.
Historians will take issue with some of the filmmakers' choices, but fans of juicy historical drama will just hunker down for the feast.Review of ELIZABETH by Kathryn Gillett
E L I Z A B E T H Too Much Fiction in This "Historical" Tale
If you're looking for a video to watch this Spring, "Elizabeth" (nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture) might work as light entertainment. But keep in mind, this visually interesting, yet shadowy, portrait of the creation of Elizabeth I as The Virgin Queen is more fiction than history.
The movie begins in 1554, during the reign of Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's half sister. It supposedly retells the story of Queen Elizabeth's early reign. However, the events of this movie - Elizabeth getting shut up in the Tower, almost marrying into an alliance with France, Norfolk's rebellion, and Elizabeth's eventual creation of The Virgin Queen persona - all actually took place over a period of about 30 years.
The Elizabeth in this movie, played by Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, is unsure of herself in her new role as Queen, literally fidgeting in her seat. She is portrayed as politically naive and "filled with childish passion" for Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).
In fact, the woman who donned the English coronation robes in 1558 was a hardened and practiced politician who was not afraid of her power, and knew how to use it. She was raised in the reign of her father, Henry VIII, learning only too well how dangerous even a slight personal or political misstep could be. Elizabeth Tudor's strength of character came from surviving the maelstrom of being the only offspring of Anne Boleyn, "the Great Whore," bastardized, ostracized, and often threatened with physical harm, even death. Keenly intelligent, she was taught by the finest teachers, as befitted a true Renaissance Princess. By the time she came to the throne, in addition to her political astuteness, she spoke fluent Latin (the international political language of the time), as well as Greek, Italian and French.
One of her most trusted friends throughout her life was Robert Dudley. She clearly had deep feelings of affection for him, but never let "childish passion" distract her from her duty. Certainly, rumors spread like wildfire throughout Europe about the nature of her relationship with him. However, Elizabeth never had a sexual relationship with him or anyone else.
It seems difficult for people to believe that Elizabeth lived and died a virgin. Yet she did. How do we know that? As the movie shows, spies in any court in Europe were as common as fleas on a dog. It was their job to report to their masters, in writing, what they discovered. Much of that writing survives, and no one ever wrote about anything more than rumors. Also keep in mind that no one, not even the monarch, slept alone. There was always at least one servant sleeping in the royal bedchamber, no matter what was going on in the royal bed. Thus, not unlike our times, there were no personal secrets of any import a monarch could keep. And Elizabeth's virginity was of keen interest to every one of her suitors who together made up the Who's Who list of Europe in the 1500s.
Two such suitors were Dukes of France. This movie has the Duke D'Anjou come to England in the hopes of marrying Elizabeth. This was not so. He and Elizabeth never met. However, a few years later, his younger brother, the Duke D'Alencon was offered up, seriously considered and nearly succeeded in marrying her. By the time the Dukes came on the scene, Elizabeth was 46, not the 20-something portrayed by Blanchett.
This movie goes out of its way to shock the audience with outrageous behavior that never would have happened. In one scene the Duke D'Anjou, as a suitor for the hand of the Queen of England, speaks in an outrageously sexual way to her. No man would speak to the Queen that way. . .and no Queen would tolerate it. The shame is that sophisticated word play was something Elizabethans loved. Had the script used that tone, the dialogue would have been much more delightful.
The costumes took equal liberties with historical accuracy. It is relatively easy to accurately reproduce costumes of this period; there are scores of portraits to copy. Which makes it all the more amazing that Colleen Atwood's Oscar-nominated costumes, while lush, are unnecessarily inaccurate. One dress had a bodice, neckline and sleeves belonging more to the Edwardian era than Elizabethan. This is unfortunate. The dress of the time was elegant and intricate. Elizabeth's clothes in particular were designed to be visually opulent and literally stunning. Elizabeth was nothing if not a consummate self-promoter. As the daughter of Henry VIII, she fully understood the need to impress both her people and her enemies with her presence as God's anointed on Earth.
Given the portraits of the characters as drawn in this script (no matter how historically slipshod), the acting is the highlight of the movie. This story paints Elizabeth as uncertain, passionate, and naive, and Blanchett does a fine job presenting her as such. In a similar way, the other key actors deliver such powerful performances that the characters that were written for them continue to live in my imagination.
Shekar Kapur lovingly directs this film, deliberately leaving the viewer with the sense that this was a dark and sinister age. Unfortunately for me, because I know this era also shone with intellectual, musical, artistic and political brilliance, I fail to share Kapur's love of this film................................................................
Bio: Kathryn Gillett has been a student of Tudor History for over 15 years. She is a freelance writer who has published numerous articles and essays. She lives and works in Seattle, Washington.