Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Mollà
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
In preparation for watching this quite-obvious Oscar-bait earlier this year, I decided it was finally time to watch 1998’s Elizabeth, a movie I’d only ever had mild interest in due to its critical acclaim but was never itching to see due to its subject matter. When I did finally get around to watch it nine years after the fact, I was struck by how average the movie was, full of empty artiface more concerned with pomp and imagery than it was with narrative storytelling.
I bring this up because the release of its sequel was met with commercial indifference and a largely negative critical reception. What’s interesting to me is that while I’ll allow for some drop in quality from original to sequel, I found The Golden Age to be an incredibly similar experience to 1998’s Elizabeth, with all of the same flaws and frivolity of the original. Personally, I don’t think The Golden Age is much worse than the original, it’s just that the critical community itself has changed in the past nine years, such that Shekhar Kapur‘s reasonable facimile of his earlier work is no longer the type of movie that draws acclaim.
In 1998, art house cinema was still heavy in its Merchant Ivory phase, when epic costume dramas like Elizabeth were critical darlings. In this environment, Kapur’s lavish set and costume designs, epic scope, and intrusive gothic imagery and score may have seemed high brow. But in 2007, where unofficial Jane Austen sequels litter book stores and The Tudors plays on Showtime, it feels hopelessly middlebrow, and the sequel suffers as a result.
Not that the movie shouldn’t suffer. It IS hopelessly middlebrow: two hours of romance novel triffle dressed up in period garb, heavily focused on glossy set-ups and intricate costumes. The cast all appear largely disinterested throughout (yes, that include Cate Blanchett, who was the best part of the original but is in no way deserving of the Best Actress nomination she received here), although to be fair, the movie doesn’t seem particularly interested in them either. Much like a CGI-heavy blockbuster, characters are pushed aside in The Golden Age in favour of the sets they inhabit and the costumes that they wear. Kapur generally seems more interested in getting the visual he was after than the performance he should be after.
Which might be a little more forgivable if the imagery he was composing was something we hadn’t seen before. But it isn’t. Not only is it just the same sort of Elizabethian costume party we’ve seen plenty of times before, we’ve seen it before from him. Nine years ago. With the same lead character. Instead we get an unnecessary sequel to an overrated movie that is almost instantly forgettable and serves to diminuish the repetition of the original. Which is fine by me, since the only reason I didn’t find this over-the-top retelling of the Anglo-Spanish war so unbelievably laughable is that I already felt that way about the earlier over-the-top retelling of the early reign of Queen Elizabeth, and thus expected no better of its sequel.