Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

*. 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 . . .

16 thoughts on “Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Sigh. If a film is anti-semitic, people queue up to call it out, but Catholicism seems to have few defenders in the media; it’s the religious hate crime that the establishment love to encourage.

    1. Alex Good

      John Knox and the Presbyterians usually do get tarred pretty badly in the Mary Queen of Scots movies too. But Catholics are definitely seen as a soft target. The pedophile priest is a stock figure.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        In Scotland, if you want to assault Catholics and post it on Vimeo, you get a police escort; Police Scotland see ‘no criminality’ in hate crimes like this, as long as Catholics are the victims ‘KILL ALL TAIGS’ is written on every wall in the city right now, and that’s the way the government like it.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Really? Didn’t know things were that grim. Over here this week they’ve been burning churches down as a response to the residential schools stuff, and that’s been valorized in some quarters.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        Yup, have read about that. The virus has been a perfect shield to allow intolerance of religious choice…you’re more likely to get beaten in the streets for your religion now than at any time I can remember….

      4. Alex Good Post author

        Yeah, back when my parents were kids that sort of religious intolerance was really bad, but it was more of an ethnic thing then. We don’t live in enlightened times now though.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        Agreed. Things have declined rapidly in the last 18 months….we’re heading back to the dark ages of hatred of minorities. Mob rule is the new law…anyway, Blanchett banks her pay-check and doesn’t have to get her head kicked in while waiting for the train home.

      6. fragglerocking

        I thought the church burning thing was as a result of the 1000 kids graves being found and the forced assimilation of the indiginous people rather than an intolerance of catholics.

  2. fragglerocking

    This was a fun romp I thought. I especially liked the bit where she was on the white horse in her armour plating and rallying the troops! “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too” 😀 😀 rousing stuff!!

  3. Bookstooge

    Dix and I semi-regularly have a “conversation” about the role of movies in popular culture. Movie like this tend to bolster up my view of things 🙂

      1. Bookstooge

        I view movies as pure escapist entertainment no matter what the director/actors/whatevers might say publicly otherwise. No primroses though, just some cow patties….

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