The way Elizabeth: The Golden Age tells it, the Spanish Armada’s defeat by the British Empire was the orgasm The Virgin Queen never had. Picture it: The phallic figurehead of Sir Walter Raleigh’s (Clive Owen) ship penetrating the Armada’s formation, sending Spain’s Chris-Kattan-as-Antonio-Banderas seamen and white horses into the heaving waters of the Thames in a blaze of fire and flying wood. In the distance, from the safety of a CGI mountaintop, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) appears pleased by the carnage, a breeze blowing her nightgown between her legs. Shekhar Kapur cannot ignore that Elizabeth was a mother to no one, but he subscribes to the belief that the woman never so much as stuck a finger inside her own vagina, which is probably why every scene in this bombastic, singularly unpleasant freak show insinuates that the queen experienced sex vicariously through elaborate quips, fancy clothes, and keeping her bitches on short leashes. Kapur’s own performance anxieties are similarly projected outward: It’s no coincidence that Ivan the Terrible is name-checked at one point because the director’s perpetual use of from-the-rafters overheads is an obvious Eisensteinian put-on. But Kapur’s aesthetic brio is as arbitrary as the story, what with its self-sabotaging sense of feminist outrage and lip service to the era’s religious conflict, and as such it seems unwise to even engage with the similarities between the nepotistic Elizabeth’s politicking and Bush-style stumping. More interesting to contemplate is Blanchett’s intolerable drag act. Because of her dramatic cheekbones and finicky method ticks, the woman is considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation, but if that were true she might have brought some measure of sympathy and knowingness to her simultaneous channeling of Bette Davis and Mike Myers’s Dieter throughout the film. For sure, Samantha Morton’s talents are cruelly wasted as Mary, Queen of Scots, but her one teary breakdown and grandiose exit from the word allows us, a la Notes on a Scandal, to tell the difference between an actress and a movie star.
- Shekhar Kapur
- Michael Hirst, William Nicholson
- Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Mollà, Tom Hollander, Eddie Redmayne, Vidal Sancho, Jordi Mollà, Jeremy Barker
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