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Cinema in Focus: ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’

Cinema in Focus reviewers find Elizabeth: The Golden Age focuses more on the queen's flowing robes than her courageous soul.

2 Stars — Shallow

Like the first in our series of films on Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age  assumes that the viewer knows English history. Giving us scant information at both the beginning and the end, the film picks up where the first film left off and focuses on the years 1585 to 1588. Although Elizabeth (played by Cate Blanchett  in both films) would have been 50 years old and settled into her “virgin” single life, this film brings in a love interest that, though historically inaccurate, adds the dramatic elements of jealousy and longing to this portrayal of her life.

As in the first film, the ongoing tale weaves religion with politics into a horrific mixture. Since Elizabeth is a professing Protestant, her two political adversaries who want her throne use their difference in religion as Catholics to justify betrayal from one and attack from the other.

The betrayal comes from her own cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). Having been exiled in a castle under Elizabeth’s watchful eye, Mary is enticed to claim the throne as her right and issue the command to assassinate Elizabeth. What Elizabeth and her adviser, Sir Francis Walsingham (played by Geoffrey Rush  in both films), do not understand is that Mary is being set up by both the Jesuit order and the king of Spain to be caught in her treason.

As the greatest power of his day, Philip the Second (Jordi Molla) of Spain needs a just reason to declare a holy war on Elizabeth. He creates such a justification when the treason of Mary is discovered and Walsingham compels Elizabeth to have her Catholic cousin beheaded.

The battle of 1588, which the film explains was the greatest defeat in Spanish history, is won in part by the man Elizabeth yearned for, Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). Although in actual history Raleigh was not at sea on that victorious day, in this telling of the tale he is the hero as he risks his life in a daring attack against a much larger Spanish armada.

The love triangle in the film lacks believability and is both predictable and simplistic. When Raleigh is humbled by Elizabeth’s fear and anger, he turns to her younger and more beautiful lady-in-waiting who is also named Elizabeth (Abbie Cornish). This betrayal by both of the people closest to her is too easily forgiven as the Queen tends to matters of state and relinquishes her personal happiness.

The primary weakness in the film is that it takes itself too seriously. The many images shown of Elizabeth are stylistic and melodramatic with far too little attention to the deeper aspects of her strength and will. Even in the moments where she risks her life by going to the front of the battle, the images are focused more on her flowing robes than her courageous soul.

In future films, we hope that the Elizabeth of actual history will be more convincingly shown so we can better understand one of the most significant figures of English and world history.


1. The use of religious labels and motivations to get whole nations to go into a “holy war” has little to do with Jesus, who told us to love our enemies. Why do you think that is true?

2. The betrayal of Elizabeth by both Raleigh and Bess is predictable by the way the film set the stage. Had you been director, how would you have done that differently?

3. The courage with which Mary faced her execution was laced with religious confidence. Yet that same religious confidence had also encouraged her to kill her sister and malign her faith. What is the difference between religious confidence and religious bigotry?

4. Do you agree the film took itself too seriously? Why do you answer as you do?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church  on the Mesa. For more reviews:

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