Saturday, October 13, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007, Shekhar Kapur) [3]

If there was an Oscar for Most Direction, Kapur would be running neck and neck with Across the Universe's Julie Taymor for this year's award. Clearly, the dude has never met a snazzy angle or completely gratuitous attention-grabbing camera movements he didn't enjoy enough to use it a dozen times. After all, why shoot characters straight on when you can shoot them from around pillars, from ultra-high angles or rotating the camera around them? The ironic thing is that the stylistic overload is practically the only thing worth mentioning in regards to this film. The screenplay is a sketchy distillation of history at best, an outright fabrication at worst, with Elizabeth portrayed as a bulwark of enlightened, forward-thinking humanism in the face of the devious attacking forces of Catholic Spain. I was a little troubled by the film's portrayal of Catholicism until I realized that pretty much the only knowledge the film displayed about the Inquisition could be learned here:

No less troubling is how The Golden Age flaunts the hoary cliché of the successful woman who is troubled by the lack of love in her life. The film's screenwriters paint Elizabeth as a woman so smitten with the rougish charms of Sir Walter Raleigh that she takes private audiences with him, knights him to prevent him from embarking on another voyage, and flies off the handle when she discovers that he has fallen for her favorite lady-in-waiting. Now, I don't begrudge powerful women their romantic whims. But I find it pretty patronizing that the filmmakers feel the need to turn Elizabeth- a paragon of strong, powerful women- into a lovesick girl who despairs of never being able to find a man. Could a film get away with doing the same thing for a male protagonist? Doubt it.

Some people have singled out Blanchett's performance here for its regal star power. But while she certainly holds the screen, I thought she looked visibly bored with the film she was starring in. At one point, she's being berated by a visiting emissary from the dreaded Spain, but instead of reacting to what he was saying, Blanchett was sort of smirking and swaying her arms back and forth as though she was listening to her iPod. The Golden Age is a film that seeks to make its heroine appear not quite of her time- the better to portray her as forward-thinking. But to have her act as though she's practically in another film altogether isn't really the way to go about it.


Victor said...


In semi-demi-kinda-sorta defense of one detail in this vile and hateful film**:

Elizabeth wasn't a successful woman, she was a queen. One of the duties of a monarch is to produce heirs, and so it doesn't mean anything sexist to show her fretting about finding the right man. You're quite wrong about a double standard; indeed, any film about Elizabeth's father Henry VIII could hardly avoid being largely about this powerful, successful man wrapped up in a search for the right woman.

(The historical problem though is the film begins in 1585; Elizabeth was born in 1533. The Walter Raleigh stuff is pious legend, albeit one that long long LONG predates this film. The story of Sir Walter Raleigh's cape and the mud was THE examplar of chivalry in British boy-culture when I was a wee lad.)

** BTW ... you're only the second not-explicitly-Christian critic I have read to have noted the anti-Catholicism of the film (beyond vague talk about "historical inaccuracy").

Paul C. said...

Perhaps, but Elizabeth's internal conflicts (sketchy as they are) never feel like "oh, I need a man to have an heir," but "I wish I had a man to make my knees weak and my soul feel complete." I got the stuff about others questioning her effectiveness as queen because she hadn't yet produced a king, but the movie sort of elides that in the end in favor of Elizabeth briefly considering a hot'n'sexy affair with bad-boy charmer Walter Raleigh.

And I suppose I felt the need to comment on the anti-Catholicism because I grew up Catholic. At the current time I'm an agnostic, but my childhood was spent in the bosom of the Church.