*. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is director Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to his 1998 film Elizabeth, which also starred Cate Blanchett in the title role. The Golden Age wasn’t as well received though, and actually managed to be quite controversial, especially for a historical costume epic.
*. The controversy took two forms. In the first place, The Golden Age is bad history. Very bad history. I won’t bother going through all the liberties taken, as there are websites out there that do a better job of fact-checking and there’s so much that’s wrong it would take me forever to go through it all. Suffice it to say that even Blanchett was concerned about people mistaking the film for fact: “It’s terrifying that we are growing up with this very illiterate bunch of children, who are somehow being taught that film is fact, when in fact it’s invention. Hopefully though an historical film will inspire people to go and read about the history. But in the end it is a work of history and selection.”
*. The second controversial point has to do with perceived anti-Catholic bias. This is, on the face of it, pretty hard to deny, especially since it was something already on display throughout much of Elizabeth. Now you could argue that the main action of the story here has to do with Catholic Spain’s attempt to invade England, climaxing in the defeat of Hector Barbossa’s Spanish Armada, so that religious conflict was baked into the story. But still . . .
*. My first thought was that the whole thing was being presented as a response to 9/11. The villainous Spanish, after all, are religious fanatics sending their secret terrorist cells into the liberal democracy of Tudor England even before they launch their unholy strike. What are those banners of Christ but the black flags of ISIS, five hundred years early? And Philip II, isn’t he Osama bin Laden?
*. Catholic groups had every right to feel upset. Put simply, the Spanish aren’t just the enemy, they are evil. All those golden crosses sinking with the Armada are so much Papist trumpery we are meant to exult in the destruction of. Meanwhile, back on Albion’s shores, freedom reigns! Go Reformation!
*. My jaw dropped only five minutes, or less, into The Golden Age. As it went on though, my shock turned to amusement, and finally to hilarity. This is a ridiculous movie, but since it made me laugh and hoot at the screen not once but many times I can’t say I didn’t have a good time. In other words, it’s so bad it’s kind of good.
*. Basically Kapur has taken some events and characters from the historical record, scrambled them together, and turned them into a sumptuous period romance. Just look at Raleigh (Clive Owen), the dashing pirate stepping straight off the cover of a Harlequin, coming onto the screen with a bold gesture and a smoldering glance directed at the repressed queen. Here’s a fellow more than able to fill Robert Dudley’s codpiece from the previous film. Of course he’s a charming rogue, with nothing at all being said about his starting his career as a slaver. Meanwhile, even though Elizabeth is a queen, and a modern, proto-feminist, enlightened monarch at that, she’s still a woman damn it! Of course she melts, by the fireplace, in the hands of this rough, manly man. She may be “called” the Virgin Queen and was childless but . . . she’s a woman damn it! Of course she likes babies!
*. Sir Walter doesn’t just walk the walk though. He can talk the talk. Merely hearing the accounts of his travels is enough to trigger a royal orgasm. And he can comfort her highness with language like this: “We mortals have many weaknesses. We feel too much. Hurt too much. All too soon we die. But we do have the chance of love.” Swoon!
*. A good example of the way the romantic bent overwhelms the history can be seen in the execution of Mary Stuart. By every historical account this was a horrible bit of business. It took the executioner a few whacks of the axe and apparently her lips were still moving for fifteen minutes after decapitation. When her head was held aloft her noggin fell out of her wig. A small dog emerged from under her skirts. Do we get any of that here? No, just a cutaway after a gloriously staged and lit build-up.
*. Well, I’ve said before that the Tudors have never gone out of style and I think it’s true that romance of this kind hasn’t either. So enjoy Sir Walter unlacing Bess’s bodice, or playing horsey with the queen, and slooooowly leaning in for a kiss, before he sails off to smash the Spanish fleet pretty much single-handedly. While Liz watches from a clifftop. I’m not making that up.
*. Full credit, and more, to Cate Blanchett. It’s nothing short of a miracle that she gets through all of this with her dignity intact. But she does. Despite Kapur’s constant efforts at upstaging her with arty shots from high angles, or taken from behind screens or other obstacles. The whole thing looks, and sounds, like a commercial for Tudor toiletries. They could have even used the same tag-line: “Woman. Warrior. Queen.” A historical travesty and a joke in pretty much every other respect, it may survive as camp but I think is more likely to be completely forgotten in another few years. Though some trash can be hard to get rid of. It’s terrifying to think of the children . . .