“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is the sequel to the 1998 Oscar-nominated film Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett returns as Elizabeth I, England’s great and glorious monarch and Geoffrey Rush returns as her advisor and spymaster, Francis Walsingham.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age weaves together two iconic Elizabeth stories. The first is the curious love triangle between Queen Elizabeth, Walter Raleigh, an explorer, soldier, courtier, and poet played by Clive Owen, and Bess Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting, played by Abbie Cornish. The second are the events of the mid 1580s when England was in her greatest peril, the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth and place her rival, Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, followed by the assault by the Spanish Armada.
Cate Blanchett, as in the first film, dazzles as Queen Elizabeth. She looks considerably younger than the mid-fifties that the real monarch was during the events of Elizabeth: The Golden Age. But one could see how people, especially men, could worship her as a living goddess, as Gloriana as she was often called. She is one part fire and strength, one part sly humor, one part feminine vulnerability.
Geoffrey Rush’s Walsingham is older, but still crafty in the ways of political intrigue. Walsingham had practically invented the art of espionage, and that serves him in good stead in uncovering the Babington Plot. Mary Queen of Scots, played by Samantha Morton, still looks somewhat surprised as she is being led toward the block, as if thinking, “How did this happen?”
Clive Owen’s Raleigh is somewhat stolid and stiff, at least at first, choosing his words carefully as an unknown but ambitious adventurer looking for favor at court the better to further his colonization schemes in the New World. But he has such an animal charm and keen intellect that one can imagine why the older Elizabeth was so taken by him.
Bess Throckmorton is depicted in this film as more Queen Elizabeth’s gal-pal than as a servant. They share giggling confidences throughout most of the film. That makes what seems to be Bess’s liaisons with Raleigh even more of a betrayal than it otherwise could have been.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” comes into its own when the Spanish Armada sails with an army and, even more ominously, the Inquisition. Raleigh and people like Drake have to sail with England’s tiny fleet to try to stave off the mightiest naval force in history up to that point.
Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth, in full plate armor, her long red hair blowing in the wind, rallies her troops at Tilbury, mounted aside a rearing, stamping white horse. The English soldiers were so wildly moved that this writer shudders for what might have happened to the Spanish tercios had they landed.
Of course “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” does violence to history in service to cinematic art. The most flagrant and impressive example is when Queen Elizabeth, clad in nothing but a flowing night shift that clings to her body in the wind, walks out from the camp at Tilbury onto the cliff overlooking the English Channel and sees that Spanish Armada on fire from horizon to horizon, the remains being blown to pieces by the famous “Protestant wind.” It never happened, but my did it look cool.
“Elizabeth: the Golden Age” is a little more uneven than its predecessor. But it’s still a worthy historical drama, vibrant in its colors, sumptuous in its scenery.