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IN SHORT: Pageantry without passion.
Cranky really wanted to rave (positively) about the second historical epic out of the gates this year, a remarkably compact tale of political intrigue, assassination attempts, sex and the ultimate iconification of a human being, in this case Elizabeth, Queen of England. Filled with long passages designed to show the pageantry of Court, and which hide important bits of political intrigue (so don't go to the john), Elizabeth is marvelous visual display. High production values only mask something that is ultimately missing from the flick.
It isn't physical passion that's missing -- there's plenty of that -- it's visible, political passion that isn't there. It's in the script; it's in the scenes that play out as both France and Spain vie for control of England via marriage. But Cranky didn't feel it coming from the characters onscreen. It may be because I'm American and know the history only from an old series of stories on Masterpiece Theater -- I am not going to try to explain the history of the story, which focuses on the very brief passage of time in which Mary unwillingly passes the throne to her sister and the turmoil which followed. We don't even get close to the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, who is not the same Mary as Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant) who figures prominently in this story. Historical notes found on the web site may help you. Cranky had 'em in the press kit but concentrated on what was on the screen. Cranky just didn't feel the political violence that should have been, methinks, coming from the screen. That's a very intangible criticism, I know. Let's start with the positives. . .
The opening sequence, which sets the stage with the religious persecution being waged from the throne of Queen Mary, Catholic against Protestant, kicks ass. The music pounds. Onscreen titles bring you up to snuff on English history and three Protestant "heretics" are burned at the stake. The politics and players are introduced just as quickly; the aging and childless Queen (Kathy Burke), the husband who will not touch her, the power hungry Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), who will covet the throne once Mary is gone and advisors including Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) and Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), the latter a Protestant exile in France. Not to mention her lover, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), whose betrayal will prove to be a turning point in the tale.
That means it gets real bloody, real fast. Kind of like the end of The Godfather. Cranky noted that there was more applause at the end of this screening than is normal at previews. There was also a lot of conversation between couples where "Did you like it?" was the answer to the question of "Did you like it?" Elizabeth takes a whopping bite out of history and barely manages not to choke on it. This British production, helmed by the Indian-born Shekhar Kapur, sports lavish production values and a crystal clear script which dances merrily around the political intrigues. It all rests on the shoulders of Cate Blanchett as the Queen, whose performance is, at times, subtle and terrific but most of the time just okay. That's a fair description for most of the acting performances plus the small appearance by John Gielgud, as The Pope.
Just okay. Blanchett's turn is not as riveting as the historical character would suggest. There's a lot of money on the screen, in production and in the cast, but the parts don't add up to more than the whole. Cranky was not as affected by the flick as he was prepared, and inclined, to be.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Elizabeth, he would have paid . . .
'cuz the visuals should be seen on a big screen.
This rating is Date flick level. To the guys, Two words: Masterpiece Theater. If you have no tolerance for historical tales, even one that remarkably fits into a mere two hours, you'll have no tolerance for Elizabeth (but you'll sit through it and make your date do the same for the next action flick).
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