- Shekhar Kapur
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, February 07, 2008
The star is Cate Blanchett, virtually unknown back then but whose already impressive work so impressed director Shekhar Kapur that he just had to cast her, and fought for that till he got it. Blanchett is absolutely stunning as the young Queen, who in the year of 1558, at the age of 25, succeeded her sister, Queen Mary (Kathy Burke), otherwise known as Bloody Mary in part because of her prosecution of protestants who would endanger her Catholic reign. Both were daughters of the most fascinating of kings in English history, Henry VIII, who gave way to Anglicanism as a means to divorce Mary’s mother, Queen Catherine, and marry the one who was to be Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. This eternal controversy brought great troubles to the next generation, as Elizabeth was brought forth and she made Protestantism official. But this was not her only problem: there was so much international stress that she was pressed to marry, preferably to a man who would constitute an alliance of England with another country, namely France or Spain. She didn’t want to give in, but her advisors wouldn’t have it any other way. Thus came her decision to become a figure strong enough to rule her country without submitting to another. But the path to that wasn’t easy, and surely it didn’t deal with politics only; Blanchett, in perfect understanding of Michael Hirst’s script, transmits every human feeling that we sometimes doubt historical rules to have had.
As in all good biopics, facts are played with, times are trimmed, and drama is added to gain effectiveness in creating an entertaining piece. Be it smiles or tears, indignation or joy, it’s all given away in subtle ways despite the lightning pace that makes the years seem minutes. David Hirschfelder’s score, as other masterful elements, makes sure that it’s all set to the same mood and that the big picture remains the same, and surely it all turns out nail-biting. At times it’s a very personal biography, detailing Elizabeth’s feelings as she meets love and heartbreak, most of them achieved through the masterful editing of Jill Bilcock’s as a top-notch accompaniment to Blanchett’s sensibility; at times it’s a political thriller, with all the conspiracies going on around the queen; at times it’s a period piece, with Remi Adefarasin’s photography evolving through the times and the art direction advancing accordingly; and at times, most effectively I might add, it’s a finely executed chiller masquerading as an epic, reminiscent of The Godfather (1972) in that bloodshed is necessary but we’re with the good guys, except they’re not altogether good and neither are their methods, but we don’t care because they’re the characters we empathize with. Or could we have enjoyed more the way Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant) or her nephew, the Duc d’Anjoy (Vincent Cassel), are treated? And who’s to complain about the way John Gielgud so deliciously plays Pope Pius V as the representation of evil?
The most prominent characters around the queen are all men. There’s Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), who advised her even before her reign, but then succumbed to tradition and became an obstacle instead of an ally despite his good intentions; Sir Francis Walsingham (an outstanding Geoffrey Rush), who proved effective and dangerous but strongly in pro of the queen’s ascent; the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), her in-house arch-enemy; and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes), her lover.
It’s all like a card game indeed, with all those colors and dresses and settings of court that are so unique and spectacular and repugnant in their own way. And it’s funny to note that even though history tells that it was a woman who made the best decisions for herself, there was always a man behind it. But there’s just nothing wrong about that. In fact, one could say Cecil, Walsingham and Dudley became the first instruments Elizabeth used to become the most powerful woman of her country, and one of the most prominent in history. And this film proves quite a satisfactory summary of how that was achieved.
“I will have one mistress here... and no master.”
Gon C Curiel en Twitter | CriticSociety en Twitter | CriticSociety en Facebook
Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter
Other reviews of Elizabeth (1998): Morris