I’m not used to historical dramas having sequels – it’s a privilege usually reserved for the less wordy and more spectacular of Hollywood films. The Golden Age comes nine years after Elizabeth, the film that secured Blanchett’s reputation, and I’d be surprised if anyone had been hanging out for it before it was announced.
After explaining that she would give her body to none but her country (hence the ‘virgin queen’) at the end of the first film, the sequel introduces temptation in the form of Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). Speculation about whom she will marry seems like a step backwards after such a strong ending in the first Elizabeth. Owen is as cool and confident as ever, though at least gets to smile. Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Sir Francis Walsingham, though his character becomes less and less relevant as the film goes on. Rhys Ifans has a small role also, and it’s good to see him playing a character who isn’t manic or slightly crazy. Blanchett is of course great, but she always is, even in her duller films. Abbie Cornish plays Elizabeth Throckmorton, and though she’s still being typecast as the strumpet, her character is completely endearing and wonderfully conflicted. Samantha Morton is stunning (and stunningly under-utilised) as Mary Stuart, though it’s hardly surprising since I’ve never seen her put a foot wrong.
The sets, locations and costumes are all beautiful. The film looks great on the big screen, excepting when we’re subjected to the disappointing visual effects. The score, courtesy of Craig Armstrong and A. R. Rahman is great also.
Everything is spot on in fact, excepting the story. I’ve always thought it hard to wring excitement out of stories about rulers – they stay in the one place and talk about what’s going on, rather than actually doing it. The one time Elizabeth gets out and about is to rally her men against the superior might of the advancing Spanish armada, and it feels out of place. The Spanish are the bad guys here, and we know this cos they dress in black and are lit by creepy green lights. This is perhaps indicative of the simplified version of history – it’s all cause and effect, no room for interpretation.
It all feels like everyone was working overtime to make up for the lacklustre narrative. Elizabeth: The Golden Age doesn’t offer anything new, and it doesn’t feel like it builds enough upon the previous film to be a worthwhile endeavour. (In this regard it’s much like Spider-Man 2 actually, though with fewer tentacles.)Rating: