I have a very clear memory of watching Elizabeth back in my college days. I was the editor of the arts and entertainment section of our school newspaper and I got to see many a film as part of my job. This particular movie made quite an impression on me. From the first gritty moments of a heretic burning at the stake to the final fade-out to the Virgin Queen's mask-like pale face, I was engrossed and quite taken with this realistic, in-your-face version of history. Cate Blanchett was absolutely luminous, and even to this day, I truly feel that it was a role she was born to play.
Tonight, I saw the follow-up film, Elizabeth - The Golden Age. While I'm not in the mood to critique and write up a real "review" (too lazy, see post number 1 on this blog), I will say that it sadly does not live up to its predecessor. Still visually striking, what is missing is the heart and soul and sheer passion that made the first film work. It feels like a series of vignettes, stylish but ultimately lacking in substance. We see Elizabeth in all her glory, bedecked and bejeweled. We see her in more reflective moments, stripped of her adornments, with shorn hair and pale features which are beginning to show the fine lines of age. Here comes Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, looking as handsome as ever) to play some sort of a hero, but his simultaneous wooing of both Elizabeth and her closest lady-in-waiting rings hollow and makes him quite a lot less than heroic. There is gore and blood, torture and grimy prison scenes that seem more calculated to shock than to drive the plot. The film climaxes in the destruction of the Spanish Armada and Elizabeth's triumph as the leader of her people. Through it all, the filmmakers seem to have fallen prey to the temptation to rely on lavish costuming, sets and visual techniques at the expense of the characters and the plot. While Blanchett is still perfectly cast as the iron-hearted heroine with razor-sharp intelligence and not just a hint of vantiy, even she can't save the film.
My verdict: If you loved the first film, then you should probably see this one if only for the pleasure of seeing Blanchett reprise such a powerful role as well as lots of pretty (and overdone) period costumes. But $8.50 is a lot to pay for this pleasure; I would save it for the netflix queue. C+