This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Elizabeth, the Golden Age" is weighed down by its splendor. There are scenes where the costumes are so sumptuous, the sets so vast, the music so insistent, that we lose sight of the humans behind the dazzle of the production. Unlike "Elizabeth" (1998) by the same director, Shekhar Kapur, this film rides low in the water, its cargo of opulence too much to carry.
That's despite the return of the remarkable Cate Blanchett in the title role. Who else would be so tall, regal, assured and convincing that these surroundings would not diminish her? We believe she is a queen. We simply cannot care enough about this queen. That Blanchett could appear in the same Toronto Film Festival playing Elizabeth and Bob Dylan, both splendidly, is a wonder of acting. But the film's screenplay, by Michael Hirst and William Nicholson, places her in the center of history that is baldly simplified, shamelessly altered, and pumped up with romance and action.
We see her kingdom threatened by two Catholics, Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) who stood next in line to the throne, and Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla), who was building a great armada to invade England. Elizabeth's treasury is depleted, her resources strained, her attention diverted by the arrival in her court of the dashing Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). He has just returned from the New Land with two gifts: the territory of Virginia, which he has named after her in honor of her virginity, and tobacco, which she smokes with great delight. Elizabeth was indeed by all accounts a virgin, but in 1585, when the story is set, she would have been over 50 and her virginity more or less settled. The film sidesteps the age issue by making her look young, sensuous and fragrant, and yearning for a man such as Raleigh.
This Sir Walter, he is a paragon. He would have been 32 in 1585. Despite his shabby attire and rough-hewn manners, he uses brash confidence to rise in Elizabeth's esteem and becomes her trusted adviser and a mastermind of the British military strategy. The film deals with the famous 1588 defeat of the Armada with Raleigh at its center, commanding ships to be set afire and aimed to ram the Spanish vessels. He swings from ropes, brandishes his sword, saves himself by plunging into the sea, and in general proves himself a master swashbuckler, especially since history teaches us that the real Raleigh was ashore the whole time and played no role in the battles.