Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age was a beautiful movie (great costumes and cinematography) with fantastic acting (Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen, Geoffrey Rush), but sufferered from a poor script.

The story line was set during an exciting time of Elizabeth's reign, the Mary Queen of Scots fiasco, the Spanish Armada - it should have been great! Instead the movie seemed rather forced to me. I didn't like the anti-Catholic sentiments. Religion was a very important part of the politics of the day, but both Protestant and Catholics alike were causing trouble. Phillip II of Spain was Catholic, but was also a power hungry individual, being Catholic was not his full reason for sending the Armada to England.

In this movie, Elizabeth is getting older and still being shown heads of states around the world to marry. She is interested in none, but is interested in Walter Raleigh, a manly man, who has just returned from America. She of course can not marry him. He falls in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting, and meets Elizabeth's angry when they secretly marry. The "evil" Catholics are plotting Elizabeth's downfall and using her cousin Mary Queen of Scots (a Catholic) as part of their plot. (What was up with all of the died red clothes whenever they showed the plotters. I was confused). The plot is discovered after a failed assasination attempt and Mary is executed, much to Elizabeth's dismay. The Armada comes to attack England, but the English are victorious. The movie ends with Elizabeth holding Raleigh's baby with the epilogue that she may never have a child of her own, but she is the mother of all of England.

The plot sounds good, but I thought the execution of it in the movie didn't flow so well. First of all, I really like Samantha Morton, but she was miscast as Mary Queen of Scots. Mary should have been a beautiful, fiery woman with red hair of her own and a match for Elizabeth. She was not. As I noted above, the second problem with the movie was using the "evil" catholics as a plot device instead of giving the entire picture. Thirdly I think they tried to do too much. Focusing on just Mary or the Armada would have allowed for a fuller plot development.

Overall it was an okay movie, but I liked Elizabeth (the first movie) much better.


  1. Great review, this essentially captures my reaction exactly: Wanting to like The Golden Age and definitely impressed with parts of it, but overall leaving the theater in disappointment at what should have been much, much better. And you're right, there was just way, way too much clutter, which made it difficult to focus on anything in particular about the film.

    I'm also with you on the historical accuracy problem (or lack thereof). I don't hold movies to an impossible standard when it comes to historical accuracy, I know that liberties have to be taken there, but this one just got so many crucial details completely, utterly wrong. I was a little annoyed also at the Mary Queen of Scots thing, and the Catholics are the bad guys/girls depiction. Not really an apologist either way here, but Mary Stuart was a very compelling and attractive political figure of her own, which is why she had so many adherents. She was just pushed aside in this film.

    Moreover the depiction of the Spanish Armada was just ridiculously off-base historically-- even by Hollywood standards. Not one mention of Sir Francis Drake? With the Armada? He was one of the chief figures in confronting it, along with Howard of Effingham, and yet he's not even there. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Raleigh had nothing to do with the Spanish Armada-- Raleigh had tried to establish the Roanoke colony, which of course ultimately failed, but militarily speaking, he was involved in the (also unsuccessful) attempts to put down the revolt in Ireland. I realize Hollywood movies aren't gonna be totally accurate, but GMAB-- at least get *some* of the outline details right.

    Also, the English ships actually didn't do much of anything to sink Armada ships-- they damaged a few of the more rickety ships, but it was almost all that storm in the ocean around Ireland that sank the Spanish ships, something like 40% of the Spanish fleet or so. And basically, the English themselves failed in their own Armada against Spain the next year, while losing practically every naval battle against Spain in the war between the two countries during the decade after the Armada (Drake himself was called in a later battle against Spain IIRC)-- so obviously, Spain wasn't hurt too much by that incident.

    (Pretty good link on the details: Spanish Armada )

    I did like the costumes and much of the dialogue-- there was a feel of some authenticity to the way the movie was shot. Also, the cinematography was nice.

    But overall, the film was frustrating, it should have been great and it maybe so-so at best. Just like you said, trying to cram too much into it didn't help, and the historical inaccuracy was just so ridiculously off-the-charts that it was just impossible to go with it.

    The worst part of it is-- I really was hoping Cate Blanchett would finally get an Academy Award for her role as the Queen, I was so upset when she lost it for the first film to Gwyneth Paltrow. This time, if anything she in particular might have been even better, but the film was just so jammed up and difficult to follow, I sense that the Academy regarded her role negatively as a result.

    Hopefully, Cate will have another shot at a sequel in the trilogy. The third one might be the most interesting, since it would cover a period when things really didn't go well at all for the English and Elizabeth had to deal with some major problems-- the war against Spain ultimately failing with the Spanish having defeated the English especially at sea by around 1597 or so, plus the nasty Irish War and the big debt at home. Yet despite this, Elizabeth tried to keep a brave face and motivate her subjects. That would be a much more interesting and compelling film, not the costume drama that the second film wound up being by the time it hit the screens.

  2. I noticed on yahoo that this movie is listed as one of the ten most INaccurate historical films of all time. Interesting!