Movie review: “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) (trailer here) is the sequel to the previous Elizabeth (1998). Both starred Cate Blanchett as the so-called ‘virgin queen’, Queen Elizabeth 1 of England. According to the ever-useful Wikipedia, the historical background is as follows:

“In 1558, Philipp II of Spain’s second wife, Mary 1 of England – “Bloody” Mary – died. They had wed in July 1554, a year after Mary’s accession to the English throne, but the English Parliament had refused to crown him jointly with Mary so he had little power in England. On Mary’s death he had then tried unsuccessfully to persuade her sister and successor, Elizabeth, to marry him, but she would not agree.”

Judging from Philipp II’s decidedly uncavalier behaviour in The Golden Age, I’m glad she gave him and his revolting messengers the boot. The plot is far too complex and full of intrigue and colourful characters to give an accurate summary, but essentially it covers the events leading up to the arrival and defeat of the Spanish Armada off the shores of England.

Watching this movie made me wish I’d studied history at school. Alas, most of what we learned in primary school about history (before we had to choose between EITHER Geography OR History – what a silly choice!) revolved around World War I and II, specifically the fate of Germany (I went to a German language school), and The Great Trek and the Boer Wars. I remember these not because they were a period of history that I found particularly fascinating, but because they featured in every year’s history syllabus (probably because I went to school before the ‘dismantling’ of apartheid in the 1990s).

As a result, I have huge chunks gaps in my general knowledge, like the colonisation of America, the rise of the British Empire, almost everything that happened on the African continent north of Namibia, and the rise and fall of civilisations in the Near, Middle and Far East. Hm… I guess that covers pretty much the rest of the world…

So when I watch historical ‘re-enactments’, I always wonder how much ‘re-writing’ and ‘fictionalisation’ has actually happened. Someone famous (Alex Haley?) once said that “History is written by the winners” (Quote Garden) – to which I would add “and then re-scripted to create a blockbuster that will make Hollywood actors, producers and film studios even more wealthy”. I suppose one could call this ‘poetic licence’.

A well-written though rather scathing review in the New York Times goes so far as to call it a “kitsch extravaganza aquiver with trembling bosoms, booming guns and wild energy” (a neat little summary actually!):

“Written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, “The Golden Age” has sweep and momentum and almost as many mood shifts and genre notes as the queen has dresses. It’s intentionally playful and an inadvertent giggle, an overripe melodrama that’s by turns a bodice-ripper, a cloak-and-dagger thriller and a serious-minded historical drama with dubious contemporary overtones.”

But if you don’t mind a fair bit of fabrication, this is quite definitely a watchable movie.

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Other movies we’ve watched in July:  

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