Saturday, November 24, 2007

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE MOVIE REVIEW





















CAST: CATE BLANCHETT, GEOFFREY RUSH, CLIVE OWEN, JORDI MOLLÀ, ABBIE CORNISH
DIRECTOR: SHEKHAR KAPUR
RUNTIME: 114 min.
RATING: **
GENRE: BIOPIC, HISTORY, DRAMA

I wonder what wisdom dawned upon the director to name the film, a supposed biopic, The Golden Age. History, and even mythology, teaches us that when a reign is remembered something as important and successful as a golden age it mostly has to do with the subjects under the reign. Ah, forget history. The original, released nearly a decade ago, I learn wasn’t much accurate either. But then, aren’t majority of UK/US period films? I am not remotely a living expert on matters concerning Her Majesty’s ancestry but I knew one important fact beforehand – the Queen knew of Sir Robert’s other wife beforehand for she visited the wedding. The original, though, charted its course and writing its own history along the way. And it is manner in which it changed that one fact I knew beforehand that disappointed me. Sir Robert’s falling down from her majesty’s grace involved social and political concerns and the romance was, I learn, a small variable of the equation. The original, though, pins the motive wholly and solely on the Queen’s sudden learning that Sir Robert was married and that disconcerted me a lot. I’m not the one to harp unendingly on historical inaccuracies but when a film changes the motive to one as adolescent as that reason, I find it difficult to view it with any respect for its intellect. But, that was that.
The Golden Age, though, displays a placard upfront – History is open to interpretations. Now that is a warning in disguise, which means, flip the history all you want. I to a great extent agree with that. If a film can provide me with greater insights into an historical character, a few glaring flips don’t concern me one wee bit. But, to The Golden Age, the royalty and its history seem to be nothing but a series of romantic endeavors, juvenile at best, punctuated by assassination plots. That is it, cut and dried. I guess if they make a film on Ivan the terrible, it will most probably be a father (Ivan) whose wife is dead and who is envious of his son’s love life, which needless to mention will be the film’s focus point. The needless focus on the romance between Sir Walter (a typically wooden Clive Owen) and Elizabeth ThrockMorton (Abbie Cornish) couldn’t possibly interest me any lesser. I’ll come back to them later.
The film opens in 1585 where her throne faces danger from the catholic forces of Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà) and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). A plan has been set in motion to overthrow Elizabeth, thus freeing England from the clutches of a heretic. Elizabeth meets a sea farer Sir Walter, whom she starts liking and starts bestowing her favor. She is aided by her loyal advisor, Sir Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), in her fight against these treacherous forces.
Since the film accesses its right to interpret (flip it for real) history, I take the liberty to obviously assume that the central character in particular, whom the film romantics to no end, is an interpretation borne out of the writers’/director’s intellects and interests. So, from the facts supplied, I gather the following – 1. As the clouds gather over her throne, her subjects and her life the Queen rather deems it necessary to pay her undivided attention to the brewing affair between her favorite lady-in-waiting Bess and Sir Walter. 2. The Queen is helpless against the forces, invisible to me, to halt the execution of her half sister Mary who is being punished for treason and an attempt to assassinate her majesty. 3. When the Spanish minister ridicules the queen’s “bedtime” activities she, shredding all the famed composure of the royalty, shouts very much like an offended tramp. 4. When she learns about the marriage between Sir Walter and her beloved Bess, she has him arrested, again displaying the anti-royalty composure. – And all this during a timeline when the Queen is supposed to have been in her late forties. I believe wisdom, intellect and maturity dawn upon any soul by that age. Hence, going by the vision of the filmmaking team here, I deduce that Elizabeth I was more or less a rank selfish woman, hindered by her own limited vision and matters of her very adolescent heart, and that it was only a matter of fate that she was able to rule the golden age. Her Lords were the ones who led England to victory against the Spanish armada. Anybody could rule her kingdom; she simply happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time. She is liable to lose her composure even to dogs barking at her. Let me add here that the picture of the character over the span of two films is quite consistent. More so, the film, as its predecessor, tries to show the Queen innocent of any measure of harm doing and any such act were purely out of ill-judgment and the impulse of a injured heart. And this deduction is what betrays the intellect of the film. Shekhar Kapur, in an interview in The Hindu, comments that his film deals with a woman who has declared herself divine but is still human enough to fall in love, who wants to have sex, and bear children. The way I see it, his film does go about that business by portraying Elizabeth I as one interested primarily in juvenile romantic endeavors, and is more or less uninterested in the matters of the state. Greatness might have been thrust upon the real Elizabeth I but I guess she would have been up to it too. Referencing pop culture icons, like late Princess Diana, isn’t exactly enlightening on a historical figure. I guess The Queen taught us that so very effectively. Opulent sets with remarkable precision on costumes aren’t, even for a moment, guarantors of a film’s intelligence and its depth. Rather, and this I learn from experience, they’re cloaks to hide the shallow and in this case juvenile nature of a product that is masquerading as a period drama for adults.
Here, I find it most appropriate to bring discussions and comparisons to the great biopic film Patton, probably the greatest film ever made on a real-life person. The Golden Age doesn’t merit the comparisons, but the towering performance by Cate Blanchett very much does. In Patton, we’ve a film that isn’t shy one wee bit to portray the flaws in its central figure. It shows them, sometimes with a critical tone, and that is one reason why it carves such a fine character. On the other hand, The Golden Age shamelessly tries to show Elizabeth I as the most good-natured person possible, not for a moment dwelling on the possibilities of what a fine film a deeper understanding, a more vivid imagination and a cutting down on the unimaginative detour into romantic lands would have made. Such a film, portraying the queen more central to the looming threats and her role to thwart them would have made a more satisfying feature film.
Kapur, as I quote from the aforementioned interview, views his Philip as a very mild person. It is just that he believes he’s right. But your Philip only appears to be smiling sinisterly all the time, speaking in a hush tone, never ever rising from a placard character that might have as well read – I’m evil. All that important time is taken by that romance.
I find it assuming myself but there’re a couple of similarities between The Golden Age and Spiderman3, other then of course, that both of them are sequels. The Queen too is one who has greatness thrust upon her just as our friendly web slinger, but our web slinger seems to be considerably more up for the task. And more importantly, both films are bogged down by needless and uninteresting romantic arcs, banal every which way one looks at them. It is because of these meanderings that the film needs to insert sequences I call the news-scenes, wherein a character performs the obligation to make the audience understand what the hell just happened.
The guys who deserve all the applause are the ones from the Production design and the costume design department. The film manages to stay watchable because of them. I was regularly finding myself looking at the courtroom surroundings for the dialogues barely were interesting. I also found myself listening carefully to the unimaginative background score which started and stopped during sequences with deadly predictability. I could almost second guess what kind would be played as a particular sequence progressed. The color here is a bit confusing though; the color in the same tone of the opulent surroundings tend to show the golden age but the overall tone of the film – with the looming threats, the sad romance and the listless background score (A.R. Rehman, Craig Armstrong) – tended towards somewhat opposite. This is where I found the original assured; almost all of it happens in dark corners and shadows alluding to the sinister forces at large. I always maintain that technical perfections relating to the production design aspects are easier to achieve, what is challenging is coming up with a narrative to match that opulence. And narrative doesn’t just mean the story; I’m also referring to the editing and camerawork. All these aspects are expectedly bland. The only thread that manages to give this banal assemblage a breath of life is Cate Blanchett, that most wonderful actress.
She is given an underdeveloped character but she manages to pour in some of her great talent here. She is given stale sequences like giving the soldiers a battle cry and that doesn’t work at all. Due to the meanderings of the men behind the camera, her donning the knight’s armor never comes across as convincing. That even her enormous talent isn’t able to save this film speaks of the film’s quality rather than her.
I wonder if the director wanted me to feel anything at all. I guess he very much did, but I couldn’t manage as much as to feel even the slightest of warmth during this extremely inert film, its inertness caused due to its very limited intellect. The films finest moments are during the climax, immediately after the battle, when not a word is spoken. The score manages to come into its own too. And there I remembered – it’s better to stay silent and let people wonder than to open your mouth and dispel all doubts. Meanwhile, Kapur speaks of a trilogy. The third installment would deal with the Queen dealing with mortality. These two films have spoken so much of assassination plots, thwarted ones, that Kapur’s Elizabeth might as well feel immortal. But given that she seems to be so confused, even at this wise age, I guess her majesty will find it difficult again. God, Shakespeare, help them.

1 comment:

maykay said...

You're stupid. She wasn't executing her half sister Mary. Mary was already dead!!! Mary dying was the only reason Elizabeth was on the throne. She executed her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. As for Sir Walter Raleigh and the lady-in-waiting Bess. That did happen. You need to look at history a little bit. The movie goes with history very well. As soon as I saw that you thought Elizabeth executed her half sister I knew you had no idea what the movie was even about. And Elizabeth went crazy at times because she was a queen of a great country. She was a Protestant queen when the country was just starting to go to the Protestant religion. That's why she never married. She couldn't find a foreign king to marry, becuase they were all Catholic and she couldn't marry one of her subjects, such as Robert Dudley and Sir Walter Raleigh, which were both her favorites. Anyone would go crazy in her position. And not anyone can RULE a country. Especially alone. Yes, she did have help from her advisors but everything done in her reign had to be approved by her before it happened. If you don't like movies that are interesting AND go with history, then don't watch them.