Already, the word is out that Elizabeth: The Golden Age isn’t up to much, and it isn’t. It may even be a dog’s dinner although, I should stress, not our dog’s dinner. Our dog, Woofie, likes sushi, which he eats tidily with chopsticks before cracking the top of his crème brûlée with a teaspoon. You’ve never met a dog more particular. But I would certainly use ‘dog’s dinner’ in the way it is generally meant, as in such a mess. Now, the question is: where to start?
OK, how about the paralysing banality of the supposedly romantic scenes? How about the Queen inspecting her face in the mirror and berating it for its wrinkles when she doesn’t have any; not the one? How about the King of Spain being portrayed as a bow-legged mincing lulu? How about Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh jumping from a ship into the English Channel during a fierce storm and surviving without so much as a sneeze? Listen, I’m all for Clive Owen in a wet shirt (no complaints from this quarter) but wouldn’t hypothermia have got him almost instantly? And, if it hadn’t, wouldn’t he have been dashed against the rocks? The problem with this film isn’t where to start. It’s where to finish.
When we first saw the Virgin Queen (in the 1998 film Elizabeth) it was 1558 and she had just finished her transformation from girl monarch to royal icon with a fondness for kabuki make-up. This film was good. True, it fell apart for me a little when Eric Cantona made his first appearance as the French ambassador — you may spoil us, ambassador, but you don’t fool us — but aside from that it was good; cheekily refashioning the story in the style of a 16th-century Godfather with, at its heart, Cate Blanchett’s wondrous and complex performance as Elizabeth.
Now, it is 30 years on, or so we are told, which is helpful, as we wouldn’t know otherwise. The Queen appears not to have aged; not by even a day. (How does she do it?) She’s even still being courted by European royals with a view to producing an heir. Not bad for 55. I hope I can be a fertile bit of crumpet at 55. Anyway, Elizabeth’s throne is still far from safe, can you believe? Mary Stuart of Scotland (Samantha Morton) has her eye on it, as does Elizabeth’s brother-in-law King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla), who’d like to see England ruled by a Catholic again, and is conspiring with Mary. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Raleigh (Owen) throws cloaks over puddles, introduces the new marvel that is the potato, gives the Queen the eye — as well as her lady-in-waiting — and generally goes about the English court in the manner of an especially randy Errol Flynn. Still, the potato was good; best performance by a potato I have seen in a long while.
Both films share the same director, Shekhar Kapur, which is also good to know, as you wouldn’t guess otherwise. What went wrong? Haven’t a clue. Can only say what is wrong, from the almost unbelievably clichéd shots — Owen sailing into the wind on the prow of a ship; Pirates of the Caribbean-style — to the very drama of it, which clunks along obviously and inelegantly. Yes, Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as the Machiavellian Lord Walsingham, so there are the expected dark, political machinations, but this is meant, I think, to be more about the Elizabeth who has to choose between being a queen and being a woman. Fair enough, but never convincingly so.
Poor Cate. Cate is a wondrous actress but she is scandalously ill served here, and not just by the facile nature of the dialogue. (‘Why be afraid of tomorrow when we have today?’ Raleigh even asks, at one point.) In the first film, we were allowed to watch Elizabeth slowly grow as a person, whereas here it’s as if the director has a checklist of the characteristics he wishes her to display and she should just get on with it. So she goes from girlish to regal, flirtatious to merciless, asexual to throbbing on the turn of a sixpence without any real contextual support. Daft. Still, the costumes are very good. As is the pageantry. And that potato. If it doesn’t win a Bafta, I’ll eat my hat.
Anyway, as I said earlier, it’s not where to start with this film, it’s where to finish, but I’m finished now. Woofie, by the way, always likes to finish with peppermint tea, petits fours, and then a dab with a napkin. That’s just the kind of dog he is.