On the one hand, I completely enjoyed it. Why? Because I love seeing historical eras brought to life in front of me, and I particularly love Elizabeth I. You can quibble with me, but wow, does Cate Blanchett inhabit that role. She brings an amazing range of emotions to the character – regal, imperious, enticing, courageous, but also doubting, conflicted, hemmed in. Plus, I love her look – altho it’s not (obv.) exactly EI’s same face, I love that she has a sort of handsomeness, rather than pretty (which EI was certainly not). I could watch her all day! Watching her emote as EI gave me chills in a couple of places – when she tells the Spanish ambassador that she has a hurricane in her that will strip Spain bare, and the Tilbury speech (well, the “adapted” version that the screenwriters came up with).
I thought this film did a better job with locations than Elizabeth (1998) – not everything looked like it was taking place in a cathedral. Plus Clive Owen (le SIGH!) worked for me so much more than whiny Joesph Fiennes (who got no pitter pat from me).
What didn’t work? Let’s start with Mary Queen of Scots (an historical figure who I have no patience for – the woman was a ninny). Weird casting of tiny, interesting-looking Samantha Morton in the role of a 6′ (yay!) gorgeous queen. As soon as she busted out with a Scottish accent (yes, I know that’s what the average mall-goer would expect, but hi, she was raised for most of her life in France) I started giggling. And WTF WAS SHE WEARING? I swear to god, wow. Most of the film she’s in this embroidered blue taffeta dress that has cording/ropes sewn into the skirt (no, not a corded petticoat – the skirt itself is corded).
Reminded me of that early Spanish painting of a woman in a corded skirt (which is from about 60 years earlier):
And her hair! Her hair!
But the best was when she went to be beheaded – she shows up in a very symbolic black cape, with her hair suddenly done all period-like; then she takes off her symbolic black cape to reveal her Symbolic Red Dress which was some kind of weird, bastard, Ren Faire “Hey Look Ma It’s Sorta Ye Olde Timey!” gathered chemise dress with off-the-shoulder neckline (I swear there was elastic in that neckline). WTF, I ask you?
Other costumes were okay. For some reason, all the white dresses on Elizabeth worked for me:
I loved the fabric in her green with envy dress:
And OH MY GOD, they had her in a really great version of the effigy corset (the corset made for her effigy in the very early 17th c. [she died in 1603]):
And Cate looked FAAABULOUS in her armor (altho I doubt she really wore something of that nature? You tell me):
But the rest of the dresses – eh. Oh sure, they were all sumptuous, and they ranged from kinda-period to not-at-all period. But since it didn’t appear that they varied from period styles for an actual artistic reason, why not put everyone in actual period styles? I can accept changes for artistic reasons (see: Marie Antoinette). But if you don’t have a point, then why bother? And I don’t buy this whole “treat it like science fiction” thing from director Kapur; if it’s science fiction, why aren’t they running around in unitards? Oh, the feathers – very distracting, very silly.
Other things that bugged me included the comically villainous, Catholicism-screwed-me-up! King Philip; Sir Walter Raleigh’s manly heroics against the Armada; the rewriting of the Armada battle (no, the English didn’t burn all their ships; they burned one ship, the Spanish panicked and pulled up anchor, went over towards Ireland where a hurricane hit them and scattered them) – although the Armada battle as depicted (sorry if I’ve missed the official name) did make for exciting cinema. More giggles from Bess Throckmorton running around castles/town at night with her hair down and a cape and Raleigh scolding Elizabeth when she yells at Bess. The English Catholics plot, which just felt heavy handed and very School of Bad Acting.
But – and these are big buts! For me, seeing Elizabeth and the period brought to the screen was fabulous. Seeing Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth was even more fabulous. Any chance to stare at Clive Owen’s manly manliness is fabulous. I was entertained, I’ll probably see it again on the big screen, and I’ll probably buy the DVD. Scorn me if you will!
My rating: 4 (out of 5)