Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen,
Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish. Rated PG-13.
earned Cate Blanchett a well-deserved Oscar nomination and a reputation for
fierce, fearless performances, Shekhar Kapur’s middling sequel climbs aboard
the taut shoulders of its now-established star and hangs on for dear life. It’s
a bumpy ride, not because Blanchett shies from the challenge – once again, her
depiction of the alleged Virgin Queen is spirited and forceful – but because The
Golden Age is more interested in flash and
bombast than in a serious retelling of history.
Not that Elizabeth
was much concerned with the more mundane details of her majesty’s ascent to
power. Michael Hirst’s screenplay offered an elegantly rewritten history that
seemed to capture the essence of a character struggling to cope with the
trappings of power while ruling, at a very young age, over the world’s most
expansive empire. As the coming-of-age queen, Blanchett was a portrait of
youthful insecurity, naked ambition and steely determination.
In The Golden Age,
she seems somehow weaker, driven to graceless petulance by her passion for Sir
Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), the chiseled seafarer eager to colonize the
Americas. She is taken by his superficial charms, and reduced to a jealous
schoolgirl when he seduces her handmaid and only friend, Elizabeth (Abbie
Cornish). It is a turn made embarrassingly convincing by Blanchett, as Hirst
and William Nicholson’s screenplay does its best to undercut the image of the
defiantly strong monarch presented in Elizabeth.
It is not until Philip II (Jordi Mollà) and his Spanish
armada approach the English coast that Elizabeth recaptures her stony
fortitude, leading Raleigh and a hopelessly outmanned British fleet to victory
over the world’s foremost naval force. “The Golden Age” glosses over the event
– its profound impact on the balance of global power and its lasting,
devastating effect on Spain – a bit too casually, reducing an epic battle to Die
Hard-style theatrics, set against Craig
Armstrong’s blaring score.
Golden Age is
modestly engaging, making the most of the good will engendered by Kapur’s
superior earlier film, but it is hard to take seriously. Blanchett, who may
earn another Oscar nod for her carefully controlled performance as a stern,
conflicted and yet painfully vulnerable monarch, is again the director’s
greatest asset. His weakness is his tendency to fall back on silly,
melodramatic contrivance better suited to popcorn fare than to a believable meditation
on Elizabethan England.