Drama (UK); 1998;
Rated R; 124 Minutes
Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth I
Geoffrey Rush: Sir Francis Walsingham
Christopher Eccleston: Duke Of Norfolk
Joseph Fiennes: Robert Dudley
Sir Richard Attenborough: Sir William Cecil
Produced by Tim Beuan,
Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Alison Owen and
Mary Richards; Directed by Shekar Kapur; Screenwritten
by Michael Hirst
by DAVID KEYES
Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe have written stories less captivating
than the ones that have been told in history books about
Elizabethan England, the 140-year era that brought us renaissance
art, poetry, and William Shakespeare. The period has been
represented as a struggle between religious beliefs and
political issues, all of which were the result of the monarchy
that preceded King Henry VII. Henry VIII, his son and heir
to England's crown, dragged the kingdom into a bitter war
with Roman Catholicism, in attempt to break from them and
begin the Anglican church. The Pope denied him of this request,
and the struggle for the church's approval caused a great
deal of pain and aggression both on the country and the
people who domiciled it.
time progressed and Henry VIII passed on, Mary assumed the
throne with the determined objective to bring Catholicism
back to England as the sole religion. During her short period
of being queen, she, like Henry VIII, set her mind on her
own beliefs which resulted in a severe distraction from
the affairs of state. Her health, while slowly decaying,
somewhat symbolized the condition of the entire country.
If nothing else, her death would be the immediate cause
of England's downfall.
this decaying part of her ruthless life, history describes
her as a vain, self-centered 'hussy' of a woman, who, despite
the fact that she was near death, was determined to keep
her half-sister, Elizabeth I, from inheriting the throne.
She even went as far as having Elizabeth locked in the tower,
threatened with a death warrant. A lord asks her in her
final days, "for the love of God, will you leave your kingdom
to a heretic?" Thus, the illegitimate, Protestant daughter
of Henry VIII was crowned queen of England. She entered
the monarchy an inexperienced, confused young woman who
knew little about running a country, or succeeding in her
political ambition. Her early decisions and actions were
often mistakes and blunders, and even at a time when the
Protestants seemed to be in control of her court, most believed
that Elizabeth simply could not succeed as queen.
and time again, her loyal subjects warned her that, without
marriage and production of an heir, her reign as queen would
always be unstable. Elizabeth's instincts told her to refuse
the suggestions, even though she was in love at the time,
and as a result, she was proclaimed rightfully the "Virgin
Queen" for the rest of her reign. The wars with the French
and feuds with other neighboring countries were put to a
halt by her developing sense of government. As we see it,
since her court was no help, the whole healing process was
simply an example of trial and error.
the time Elizabeth's early years were far behind her, she
had proven her court, and perhaps everyone of higher class
in the country, wrong: yes, there were mistakes in the beginning,
but seldom were they accompanied by more. Yes, blunders
were obvious, but they were not repetitive. A more detailed
example of the later years of her reign are chronicled in
the recent "Shakespeare In Love," a movie that farces the
whole concept of Shakespeare's struggle to write "Romeo
& Juliet." Without a queen like this, how would the country
have survived a recession and brought us people like Shakespeare?
bards wrote about England's historical figures very often,
and that's evident even today. Great kings like Henry IV
were subjects of countless Shakespeare plays, as were evil,
harsh kings such as Richard III. It's no wonder he never
wrote one about Elizabeth: the complex struggles between
the Protestants and Catholics were bitter enough to even
confuse people such as himself. When I read about some of
the more torturous things that went on in Elizabeth's early
years, I was not only fascinated, but stunned.
are several different versions of Elizabeth's story (thousands,
probably), but the only things believable are the facts.
To truly feel the passion and seduction of a time like this
it's necessary to have been there ourselves to see it. Since
technology does not permit time travel, the closest thing
to experience these things as they were meant to experienced
is, of course, the cinema.
where Shekar Kapur's "Elizabeth" comes in. It is a masterful
exploration of the rich and fascinating world of Elizabethan
England; the story of the Virgin queen, the court's rude
luxury, and the atmospheric tones of life behind the castle
walls scramble off the screen like deep hidden secrets of
the past just waiting to be revealed. We see the tapestries,
hear the echoes, examine the court, and feel the thrilling
passion as it was meant to be felt. We watch the members
of her court stride through the textured halls with the
whistling air whipping through their costumes, revealing
long veils and embroidery within them. If it is true, as
a director once said, that our cinema is starved for new
images, then Elizabeth has some of the most unique of its
artists had a thing for painting portraits of Queen Elizabeth
centuries ago, and if you'd compare one to the moonlight
skin of Cate Blanchet as she plays the queen, you'd swear
they were the same person. That's how convincing Blanchet
is as Elizabeth: the performance of a historical figure
is the best Hollywood has seen since Madonna portrayed Evita,
and should ensure her the Oscar.
wouldn't be as magical, though, if it weren't for the magnificent
script by Michael Hirst, which allows intact and on-the-spot
example, a scene involving the meeting of Elizabeth and
her court contains some of the film's most influential lines.
A court member says to her "Your majesty would end all these
matters if she were to wed."
to marry who, your grace?" she replies. "Some say to marry
of France, and others, Spain. I'm not sure how to best please
you unless I marry one of each."
that scene, to the moment when she boldly pronounces, "I
am my father's daughter. I am not afraid of anything," the
essence of real life is intact as much as possible. The
feverency of emotional struggle both for Elizabeth and her
country is evident, but never does it seem hopeless. By
that point, our faith has already been placed in the queen,
and therefore, we believe that she can get herself out of
movie has a script similar in context to that of Francis
Ford Coppola's "The Godfather," although it surpasses the
film 10 times more in both design and concept. Even the
stark, intense last scene of the film pays homage to the
1972 classic. Does that make it cliched? Naturally, but
if such similar movies manage to hide their formulas behind
curtains like the one's in England's castle, then you get
spellbinding films like this. You really can't tell that
the script has obvious directions.
supposedly strays from historical facts, and if history
did not occur the way the movie represents it, maybe it
should have. Things like Mary's death and the reasons for
Elizabeth's "Virgin Queen" title were never really detailed
properly in historical texts. I'm not even sure if they
really happened. Here, they make the centuries-old story
movie placed around 20th in the top critical successes of
1998, but of the five nominated films for Best picture,
it's clearly the most influential and breathtaking. I placed
it third on my top ten films of last year, but since it
has remained on my mind for so long, maybe it should have
been second (either way, though, no film was better than
"Beloved" in 1998.) We know that the Academy Award is guaranteed
to "Saving Private Ryan," but Cate Blanchett will be the
definite winner for Best Actress; if she loses, I shall
revolt from the Academy as much as I can.
director Shekar Kapur allows us to examine history as it
was meant to be examined, and for someone such as he, that's
no small accomplishment. As a visual and emotional experience,
every frame of "Elizabeth" is spellbinding.
1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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