Starring: Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Running Time: 114 mins
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a British film about the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, her struggles to find a husband to bear an heir to the throne, and the international conflicts she led England in against threats from Scotland and Spain.
Telling the story of perhaps the greatest monarch in English history, Elizabeth: The Golden Age has no shortage of source material to base its story on. As a result, although it does depict some of the key features of Elizabeth I’s reign, the film takes a frustratingly narrow view of a far, far greater history, struggling to really hammer home the significance of a number of events in the face of more focus on the romantic side of things.
First things first, however, I want to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a look at the more personal elements of a historical figure in a film. While other films do that better, Elizabeth: The Golden Age still has some good fun with its portrayal of the difficulties the monarch faced in marrying and giving birth to an heir, with the romantic intrigue and controversies in court playing a central role through the film.
The problem with that, though, is that it really takes away from a number of other main themes that really don’t deserve to be so overlooked. There is an immense historical significance to Elizabeth’s ‘romantic struggles’, but there is equally a huge importance to the challenges to her power from both Scotland and Spain, something the film really struggles to make abundantly clear.
The build-up to the Spanish Armada towards the end of the film is perhaps the only part that really focuses on just how major a turning point in history this is, but prior to that, the film discards Mary, Queen of Scots as a nothing threat, only occasionally appearing on screen for what seems like little other reason that to remind you she’s still there.
The Spanish, too, are an underwhelming adversary to Elizabeth, and while Cate Blanchett does a great job to make the virgin queen as strong and steely a leader as possible on screen, the lack of a real, challenging threat from beyond her kingdom means that she too comes across as a far weaker personality than is really the case.
Again, I was glad to see a presentation of her personal struggles, with an element of weakness going a long way to making her a more dynamic and interesting character, but as a film that tells the story of her reign, Elizabeth: The Golden Age really struggles to hit the mark, proving even weaker in its portrayal of the dramatic religious revolution that continued on from her father, Henry VIII’s reign.
The film’s biggest saving grace, however, comes in the form of some strong performances. While not all are stunning to watch – Geoffrey Rush in particular feels a little off-form here – the key leads are excellent, with Cate Blanchett playing a character that was built for her in such confident and striking fashion, and Clive Owen also impressing with his turn as Sir Walter Reighley, bringing more charisma and thereby more deserved attention onto a figure who is often overlooked on fictional depictions of the period.
Overall, then, there were elements of Elizabeth: The Golden Age that I liked, with its strong acting and often dynamic characterisation. However, it struggles too with a good balance between the romantic history it has an eye for and the most significant moments in the monarch’s reign, often proving an underwhelming depiction of an immensely important period in modern world history, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.