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Elizabeth Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
Image“Elizabeth” is a return to the pomp and splendor Hollywood used to present decades ago. It’s also the first movie in what is probably going to be a trilogy. The second movie, featuring Cate Blanchett again in the title role of Queen Elizabeth, is “Elizabeth: the Golden Age”. It came out in October of 2007 and will be hitting DVDs in February 2008, so in a month fans of the movies can pick them both up on HD DVD format.

I recently read a biography of Queen Elizabeth. I was familiar with most of the country’s economic, political, and religious activities. Elizabeth was an amazing woman who ascended to the throne at a time that would have destroyed most men. The fact that she was a woman and overcame religious conflict makes her successes even more amazing and unparalleled.

The movie deals with Elizabeth’s bastard heritage at the outset. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, the beheaded queen consort of King Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn helped bring the Anglican Church into prominence in England by winning, for a short time, Henry VIII’s heart.

This religious problem continues to be important in current politics. In “Elizabeth”, the opening scenes show three confirmed heretics who have supposedly plotted against the queen. Their heads are shaved and they’re put onto a pyre. When the fire burns too slowly and they’re being tortured as well as killed, the sympathetic crowd piles on more timber to make the fire blaze even brighter and put the doomed people out of their misery.
This is the world of “Elizabeth.” However, most of the rest of the movie shows only royalty with occasional forays into the streets of the downtrodden populace.

At the opening of the movie, Elizabeth is in her early twenties. Cate Blanchett stars as Elizabeth and brings an immediate innocence and nobility to the role. She’s engaging and sympathetic, especially after the audience learns that Queen Mary (Kathy Burke), her half-sister, is being petitioned to put Elizabeth to death. Queen Mary is ill at this point, believing herself pregnant but is in reality dying from a massive cancer in her uterus.

The soldiers arrive at Elizabeth’s estate and take her away. The scenes shot in the underbelly of the Tower of London where Elizabeth was kept for over a year are eerie and depressing. The clank of metal and the sound of the water slapping the stone walls, especially in True HD, are heavy and daunting. I don’t know if the scene was shot on location, but it looks real enough and I’d never want to go there under harsh circumstances.

Director Shekhar Kapur started out in Bollywood, India’s motion pictures industry. That market is saturated in movies steeped in history, period costuming, and elegant settings. With all that experience, he was a natural to shoot this movie. Now, nine years later, he made “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” as well

Kapur’s vision of the movie is sweeping and momentous. In addition to the Tower of London scenes, he takes his audience into the queen’s court, her bedroom, and on lawns where massive parades are held. The sex scene in the beginning of the movie is muted. Bollywood doesn’t show scenes like that. Actors and actresses who act in such scenes get banned from Bollywood pictures. In the early years of Bollywood, those scenes were fine, and now kissing is once more allowed. The settings Kapur reveals in his storytelling impact the audiences tremendously. One of the most memorable is that of the bell tolling when Queen Mary has died. The bell in the foreground swings and partially occludes the countryside beyond. The countryside is revealed for a few seconds and the clarity of the high-def presentation shows how stunning the landscape is.

The HD DVD version of the movie truly shows off all these scenes. The close-up, emotion-driven sequences are terrific, but it’s the times Kapur presents the countryside or the streets of London that demonstrate how much difference high-def makes in the home theater system. The movie is gorgeous, and HD DVD allows that to be repeated at home.

The audio on the HD DVD is fantastic. The dances and music cycle throughout the surround sound system. Clear dialogue and background noise make the scenes more real.

Cate Blanchett’s portrays a very young Elizabeth, only 25 when she was crowned queen, and she was naïve. Elizabeth loses a lot of her innocence over the course of the movie. Blanchett goes through the turmoil that the position brought to the young queen. Always an elegant actress, Blanchett turns in an inspired performance.

Geoffrey Rush plays Captain Hector Barbossa in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise; he’s Francis Walsingham in “Elizabeth”. He’s quiet and reserved, but often the focal point of the audience’s reaction to Elizabeth’s plights and her actions. He becomes her advisor and works behind the scenes to make certain she’s taken care of. The action of the movie strays from real history at more than a few places, and Walsingham’s character is one of those that get changed most.

Joseph Fiennes is good as Robert Dudley, the young queen’s secret lover. Fiennes is seductive and jealous and vile by turns as he demonstrates Dudley’s power over Elizabeth and all the problems he helped cause her.

Christopher Eccleston plays a chillingly threatening Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk. His portrayal of the man is energetic and dark. Every time Eccleston appears he almost steals the scene with just a glance of those dark eyes.

As the queen’s secretary of state, William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) is onstage a lot. His feelings for the young queen are mixed, and Attenborough does a good job of presenting that to the audience.

Mary of Guise is played by Fanny Ardant. Ardant looks great in the role. When she rides out onto the battlefield and finds the young English soldier still alive, she spares his life and sends him back to Elizabeth with a message. Ardant is very much the warrior queen in her scenes.

The story of Queen Elizabeth I is huge, which is why three movies are planned about her life. If I hadn’t read the book so soon before seeing this movie, I wouldn’t have missed much of what was left out, and I wouldn’t have noticed when the writers changed history to fit the story. Overall, the writers did a great job of delivering characters, situations, and compelling dialogue to drive the story along and keep the audience informed as to what was going on and who was who.

The sense of history about the movie is certainly one of the highlights. But Kapur’s direction and choice of sets were stupendous. Blanchett was marvelous as both the insecure young queen and the much harder, more jaded one she is at the end of the movie.

The special features offer quite a lot on this disc if you’re into history. All of these pieces enjoyable and informative. In fact, I’d almost recommend watching them first if you haven’t seen the movie, so you can get a better sense of everything that’s at stake in the film. Either way, if you’re interested in history or Queen Elizabeth I before or after the film, they’re there to watch.

Most of the physical action is kept off the screen. We see the failed battle against Mary of Guise where bodies are strewn everywhere and the stream runs red with the blood of dead men fallen into it. The plight of the characters and Elizabeth’s struggle to keep herself from falling prey to one faction or another primarily drives this film. People who enjoy history and character development will like this one a lot.

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