Of the more than 15 sequels already released this year, Shekhar Kapur
's Elizabeth: The Golden Age is by no means the most unnecessary (that remains a three-way tie between Evan Almighty
, Rush Hour 3
, and Are We Done Yet?
), though it could be considered the most improbable.
For one thing, historical costume dramas rarely spawn second chapters, particularly ones that struggle to make back their production budgets. Kapur's critically acclaimed original Elizabeth earned multiple Oscar nominations but was largely overshadowed (at the ceremony and in the public eye) by John Madden's opposing Golden Age tryst Shakespeare in Love. Article continues below
But Kapur envisioned a trilogy pertaining to the Virgin Queen's reign, and so the saga continues with a surprisingly trivial stab that should have been subtitled The High School Years. There is a palpable urgency as Cate Blanchett
slips back into her Oscar-nominated role, for Queen Elizabeth I faces pressure on multiple fronts. Externally, she’s contending with Spain’s rebellious King Philip II (Jordi Molla). In Elizabeth’s own back yard, jealous Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton
) plans a hostile takeover with help from Robert Reston (Rhys Ifans).
But Kapur treats Elizabeth's royal court like the lunchroom at your neighborhood middle school, resting his attention on the socially inadequate queen's crush on Sir Walter Raleigh (charismatic Clive Owen
) and the snippy love triangle these feelings create with loyal Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish
). Owen tries to revive the proceedings. He brings unpredictability, candor, and passion to a speech about ocean travel and discovery that can best be described as literate foreplay. Like most of the film, though, we are never allowed to consummate any passionate act.
Meanwhile, Philip II's holy war is virtually an afterthought. Kapur's production designers cover a weak script that barely addresses assassination plots, the ousting of royal traitors, and the silencing of conspirators. Those not in Elizabeth's inner circle -- most notable Morton and Ifans -- are completely shafted. Blanchett stays steady throughout, but musters more passion when she learns of Raleigh and Throckmorton's nuptials then when she's informed that the Spanish Armada has infiltrated the English Channel. You can tell which thread interests the director more.
Elizabeth is a noble and beautiful disappointment, a slice of high drama that disguises a powerful figure's adolescent and futile search for the boy of her dreams. Thanks to some impressive set design, costuming, and cinematography, it is the most ornate episode of Saved by the Bell you'll ever see.