As the sequel to 1998’s lauded movie Elizabeth, this film could perhaps have been called Elizabeth I: II: Liz Harder. She’s established herself as powerful, and this time, it’s personal. It’s 1585. She’s 52 (a well-preserved sexy Cate Blanchett of a 52) and has been on the throne for 27 years and is on the brink of a holy war with Spain. The Protestant queen, protecting her Protestant and Catholic citizens from being forced to live under the rule of one faith, wrestles with her defiance of society’s ideals of a leader (male), a woman (married and baby-making), and a warrior (bloodthirsty).
The modern parallels are inescapable: a religiously-led military force seeking to consume a pluralist kingdom for daring to be progressive. History is history – theocracies wax and wane and a monarch who does not persecute or prosecute believers of different faiths commands loyalty and strength in exchange for her respect. Elizabeth herself was on the receiving end of that persecution when the tables were turned, and we forget that this iconic figure suffered immense personal losses under the tyranny of the Catholics in Britain.
The film follows the dual fronts of Mary, Queen of Scots trying to assassinate her cousin Elizabeth and take the British throne in the name of her Catholic god, as King Phillip II of Spain is hurling his Inquisition forces at her depleted nation. The stories in this film are far easier to follow than the political labyrinth of the original Elizabeth film, which blithely assumed its viewers were all familiar with the intrigues of her day. It is not often that a complex art-house darling gets a chance at a blockbuster sequel, but the woman herself merits many tales. Oh, and the movie also has Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Clive Owen. Heard of them?
Blanchett inhabits the Virgin Queen with her customary iron and fire. She is vulnerable and willful, lonely and fierce, stressed-out and brave. It’s a great performance. It would be easy to bill and coo over this film, heavy with prestige and import as it is, bursting at the scenes with costumes and finery of the period. It is not the greatest piece of cinematic art ever made, to be spoken of only in the hushed and reverent tones of James Lipton, but it is very enjoyable. It’s primary attraction is Cate, filling the room and the screen with one of the most impressive monarchs of any sex the world has ever known. She conveys Elizabeth’s battles with male scorn and Catholic indignance with equal passion. Clive Owen, an actor to whose charms I am typically immune, strides into Elizabeth’s controlled sphere, causing chaos (and other things) to spread. He brings his open-shirted, ripply-necked Walter Raleigh to court to steal the queen’s favor but absconds with ours as well.
Director Shekhar Kapur brings the same meticulous detail to his actors’ environment as with the original film, but his cinematographer Remi Adefarasin occasionally lights or frames things very strangely. This created awkward sensations as mentally you beseech the actor to just scoot over a bit or step forward just a foot so you won’t be distracted from the scene by the weird bits. He did have huge, gorgeous overblown Oscar montage shots to make up for it – silhouettes and swirling camera perspectives, deep focus close-ups, all very interesting. And who can beat Liz on a white horse, her red Celtic plaits streaming down her gleaming silver armor, a real-life moment made grander through cinema. It’s an enjoyable film, and this time, you won’t have needed to do your homework ahead of time.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/12/07
Time in minutes 114
Director Shekhar Kapur
Studio Universal Pictures