Monday, November 1, 2021

#2,655. Elizabeth (1998)


Elizabeth I, Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, has been portrayed many times on film, including twice by my favorite actress, Bette Davis (1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and 1955’s The Virgin Queen). 

Yet when I picture Elizabeth in my mind’s eye, she looks exactly like Cate Blanchett, and director Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 movie is the reason why. 

Following the death of her half-sister Mary (Kathy Burke), Elizabeth (Blanchett) ascends the throne and immediately finds herself surrounded by enemies, chief among them the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), who fears the new Queen will return England to the “heretical” Protestant faith. 

Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor, Lord Cecil (Richard Attenborough), insists that she marry the French Duke of Anjou (Vincent Cassel) and produce an heir, despite the fact she is already in love with Lord Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). 

Though protected at all times by Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), who acts as the Queen’s bodyguard, Elizabeth is in constant danger. Will she survive long enough to unify England, or will her enemies win out in the end? 

 Of course, we know the answer to that question: as stated above, Elizabeth reigned for damn near 45 years! Yet thanks to Blanchett’s tender performance and Kapur’s solid direction, the tension in Elizabeth is tangible, and like Walsingham and Lord Cecil we constantly fear for the Queen’s safety (it doesn’t hurt that the always-impressive Eccleston makes for such a formidable foe). 

Alexandra Byrne’s extravagant costumes and Peter Howitt’s set pieces go a long way in making Elizabeth feel authentic, but the film’s power lies in Blanchett’s performance, and the convincing manner in which she transforms “The Virgin Queen” from a demure young girl into a confident, powerful monarch.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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