“Bring back Errol Flynn” I thought to myself as I sat through “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” It is beyond me how a film showing England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada could be dull, but that’s what “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is. A sequel to 1998’s “Elizabeth” (has it really been almost 10 years?), I found the film surprisingly dull, more concerned with keeping ornate sets and costumes in full view of the camera, instead of using all that fancy hoo-ha to dramatize the story. It’s dramatically inert to the point of boredom.
This film has nothing to do with history and that didn’t bother me. I don’t go to movies for a history lesson. (Although I’m afraid viewers of the film will walk away with the impression that Sir Walter Raleigh helped defeat the Spanish Armada. The family of Sir Francis Drake should sue).
Because the sets and costumes are so lavish I wish the emotions on display had matched the backgrounds, but everyone’s playing it oh so respectable. Someone like C.B. DeMille would have taken all those sets and costumes, and give us a ripping good show to go along with it.
Stars Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and director Shekkar Kapur are all back for this second go-around. I enjoyed the first film well enough but have not seen it since it first came out. The sequel deals with Elizabeth’s actions as she faces the threat of the Spanish Armada, while Mary of Scotland (Samantha Morton) is poised to re-claim Protestant England as a Catholic nation.
Spain vs. England. Elizabeth vs. Mary. Catholic vs. Protestant. It should have been dynamic, but instead the material is presented in an almost somnolent manner.
A love triangle of sorts develops between Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and Elizabeth’s favorite lady-in waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish). It put me in mind of the love triangle between Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn) and lady-in-waiting Penelope (Olivia deHavilland) in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939). Blanchett, Owen and Cornish are splendid contemporaries of the above, but I’m afraid here they’re just listless.
Kapur’s direction is unnecessarily fussy. There’s a scene where Raleigh and Bess are performing a new dance for the queen and they are awkward and tentative. Placed in the foreground are huge pieces of furniture and columns as the camera swirls around the dancers. It’s jarring to say the least, and put me in mind of Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine dancing to “Things are Looking Up” from “A Damsel in Distress” (1937). There, they had the excuse that ingénue Fontaine could not dance, so trees and fences were put in the foreground to hide her awkward dancing. But I didn’t get the reason for it here, but found it might distracting.
And then there’s the score from Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman, which represents everything wrong with contemporary scoring. No memorable melodies, everything played at same loud level of intensity. And they say scoring from Hollywood’s Golden Age is obtrusive? Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin had nothing on these guys, but Max and Dimi could write memorable themes in their sleep. I couldn’t remember a single melody here if my life depended on it.
Rating for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”: A disappointing one and a half star