DVD Release Date:  February 5, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  October 12, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for violence, some sexuality and nudity)
Genre:  Drama/History
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Shekhar Kapur
Actors:  Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Aimee King, John Shrapnel, Susan Lynch, Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish, Rhys Ifans, Penelope McGhie

It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say, “Wow … what a perfect movie on every level!” Universal’s Elizabeth: the Golden Age is a refreshingly stellar entertainment choice that shines amidst a sea of largely meaningless, crass and uninspiring alternatives.

The grand, historical epic tells the story of England’s intriguing sixteenth-century Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett), a Protestant leader who finds herself and her kingdom facing a nasty war with Catholic King Philip of Spain and his far superior armada. Spain’s mantra is “England is enslaved to the devil, and we must set her free.”

Spain is particularly incensed that the Catholic heir to England’s throne, Mary Stuart, or Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), is imprisoned in England at the moment but regularly sneaking letters out to her people.

The queen’s advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) warns Elizabeth to make a pre-emptive move against Spain—and to interrogate and imprison possible Catholic papal loyalists in England. The queen replies, “Fear creates fear. I will not punish my people for their beliefs—only for their deeds. … May we have the wisdom not to fear shadows and the courage to act when the day of trouble truly dawns.”

Francis further persuades Elizabeth to produce an heir, and when the handsome Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) shows up with treasures, real Native Americans, a charming, inviting personal manner, and encouraging speeches about dismissing fear and embracing hope, Elizabeth is tempted.  She’s taken aback, however, when her new possible suitor rightly discerns that she’s missing “the simple pleasure of being liked for herself.”  She distances herself for a time in order to think clearly about the war.  Elizabeth confides to her lady-in-waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish) that she envies her freedom—to have and to enjoy the things the queen cannot. In time, however, Bess will run too far with those words and create a whole new disaster.

Meanwhile, traitors abound, and fearful prisoners—including the cousin of Bess—look to the throne for help. A terrible plot ensues, resulting in the death of Mary, Queen of Scots and an acceleration of Spain’s war effort.  It will take a clever English war plan and great strength from an amazing, selfless leader for the war to be won and England to remain free.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a fascinating, nearly perfect film on so many levels.  First, it’s always wonderful to tie history to entertainment.  And the history of Europe in the 1500s is very exciting.  The movie unfolds the age-old conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and shows how each side is praying—to the same God—for victory.  Each believes they’re fighting “God’s war.” Fascinating.  There’s also much discussion and thought-provoking portrayals of law and grace, punishment, parlay, and the intricacies of war-time decisions that will affect millions of lives and the destinies of entire kingdoms.

On a technical note, the cinematography is breathtaking.  Every scene looks like an oil-painting, and the camera work brings audiences right into the picture in clever ways.  It seems that no expense was spared to make every scene unique and memorable.  During one of the battle scenes, for instance, a white horse gets startled by the cannon fire and leaps overboard.  Very dramatic. 

The music and sound effects are brilliant.  At one point ladies are screaming, but the director lets us hear nothing. … We only get to see the open, horrified mouths.  In several cases, the beautiful music totally makes the scene.  Elizabeth will likely clean up with Oscars in costuming, sound track, story and acting. 

Acting wise, there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and witty exchanges between characters. Blanchett does an amazing job as a strong, committed ruler whose humanity pokes its head up from time and time and threatens her control.  Clive Owen is nothing less than dashing, and it’s always a delight to see Geoffrey Rush work his magic.

No doubt audiences will enjoy this refreshing, captivating, educational and inspiring film for years to come.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language:  A couple of obscenities.
  • Sex/Nudity: Allusion to sex, woman gets pregnant out of wedlock, but nothing shown; rear female nudity shown.
  • Violence:  Scenes of war, with cannons firing, people losing limbs and dying, political criminals being tortured, hung, beheaded, etc.