An excellent film, Elizabeth does not warrant a higher rating only because it assumes we in the audience are very familiar with Queen Elizabeth the 1st’s rise to the throne, and so takes a lot for granted. Perhaps we should know more of the details of the monarchy, but the first half of the movie is not forgiving at all to those who do not. Interestingly, I saw this film (which begins set in 1554, 9 years before Shakespeare in Love) two days after seeing Shakespeare in Love. With at least two principal actors, a character (Lizzie herself) and a soundstage and shoemaker in common, making comparisons is unavoidable. Perhaps I should write a separate article. The two films are vastly different in tone and scope and filmmaking technique, and I think Elizabeth as a movie lost some of my potential affection by just being less accessible and more show-offy with the camera than its “competitor.” Normally I am seduced easily by gorgeous camera work, but as I was watching, confused as to whom was whom, I was distracted and annoyed even as I was dazzled. Not much, OK, this isn’t Natural Born Killers by any stretch, but it was still discombobulating.
Having said this negative stuff, I feel it is very important to point out that this is a very good movie, with a strong lead in Cate Blanchett and simply stunning costume and scenic design. Oh my! Everything looks amazing, the castles and boats and courtiers and corridors…everyone’s teeth are pretty clean, too. The music is lovely and period sounding, the score unobtrusive. The boats! So dreamy.
Anyway – the story of how Elizabeth attained and more importantly kept the throne is fascinating – and the movie made me want to follow up for more detail. Women in power have frightened men terribly over the centuries despite their peaceful, successful legacies in England in particular, and it is always amazing to see how the men try to pull their queens down off the very pedestals on which they place these women. Blanchett lets us see the woman behind the throne, her fears and her distaste and her genuine concerns and all the meat and gristle behind the woman who defined her age, made her country the most powerful in the world in only 40 years, and who lived as the “Virgin Queen.” I would like to take note that she is taking “virgin” in the correct sense of the word, not as one who has not known sexual relations, but as a woman who does not marry. There’s plenty of sexual relations in this film.
I was not emotionally swept away by Elizabeth, but I was totally intellectually involved. A woman behind me in the theatre cried. I would consider the conclusion of the film’s narrative to be a generally upbeat one, even though the circumstances that brought Queen Elizabeth and us filmgoers there was not a happy journey. It’s very interesting – and even when I was confused I was not put off, just frustrated. I knew I was seeing important events but I could not follow who was who until deeper into the movie. It’s got other actors in it, including Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes, but despite their importance to the plot they are so secondary to Her Majesty that I will only say that they have very interesting characters and do quite a lot with them.
I recommend seeing it and you will be hearing quite a lot about Cate Blanchett in the future. I already had been, and when the movie was beginning she seemed all reaction and no self-determination, but later I appreciated the contrast. Also, the poster is off-putting, with her brightly lit face pale over a slatternly, defiant pose, but the poster does not reflect the tone of the film, don’t let that be a deterrent.
So, go see it.
MPAA Rating R for violence and sexuality
Release date 11/6/98
Time in minutes 124
Director Shekhar Kapur
Studio Gramercy Pictures