Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ELIZABETH - THE GOLDEN AGE: Blu-Ray (USA/Working Title 2007) Universal Home Video

An exceptional pseudo-historical sequel, Shekar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) is a monumental achievement – a visually resplendent and sensual epic with guts and beauty; quite unlike anything the movies have produced in the last decade. Honours for the film’s scope and grandeur go to Richard Roberts’ meticulous set decoration and Alexandra Byrne’s Oscar-winning costumes that resurrect the 14th century with a grace and regal vitality quite unlike anything we've seen on the screen for quite some time.

The film reunites director with stars Cate Blanchett (the two had worked on Elizabeth in 1998), Geoffrey Rush, and producer Tim Bevan, for this second instalment in the saga.

The year is 1588 and the military might of Roman Catholic King Phillip II of Spain (Jordi Molla) dominates the landscape of central Europe. A religious zealot who believes that God has ordained the inquisitions, Phillip views England’s Protestant monarch and her country's independence as a direct threat.

He is also acutely aware of political tensions between Elizabeth (Blanchett) and her sister, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton).Seizing on this political intrigue, Phillip first plots to have an assassin do away with Elizabeth while she is at prayers. The scheme fails, although it provides Phillip with the ideal set of circumstances for his next wicked pursuit. He sets about creating a series of treasonous correspondence between the Spanish court and Mary. These letters are then deliberately leaked to Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush).

The ploy works beautifully. Walsingham confides Mary’s presumed acts of treason to Elizabeth who, believing that her sister has conspired to murder her, is forced by English law to condemn Mary to death. Mary suffers a public beheading before Walsingham discovers the merit of the lie he has been fed and reveals the truth to Elizabeth – that Phillip, not Mary willed the crimes against her to insight holy war between Spain and England.

Meanwhile, one of Elizabeth’s ‘favorites’ at court – Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) seduces her young lady in waiting, Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Throcknorton (Abbie Cornish). The dashing Raleigh had been perceived by Elizabeth as her last chance for supplying England with an heir. Instead Elizabeth learns second hand that Bess is with Raleigh’s child. Bitter, spurned and conflicted, and, with war against Spain looming in the background, Elizabeth condemns Raleigh for his romantic betrayal and exiles Bess from her court.

Later, these emotional wounds are, if not healed, then at least tolerated. But for the moment there is little to ease Elizabeth’s conscience or concern.Phillip attacks England with his formidable armada, but Raleigh’s quick timing thwarts the attack by launching ‘fire ships’ at the enemy. Spain’s navy endures the single most cataclysmic defeat in its history, leaving Elizabeth to reign supreme over her land for the remainder of her ‘golden age.’

As was the case with the first movie, the screenplay by Michael Hirst and William Nicholson takes liberties with the historical record to make for more compelling cinematic melodrama. Critics on the whole were ruthless in their assessment of this sequel. To be fair to the script, the melodrama on this second outing does tend to lose much of the aloof and cerebral quality that made the first movie so utterly captivating. That it tends to substitute rank sentiment and some syrupy romantic entanglements in its place hardly render the narrative obtuse or trashy, as some film critics have suggested.

Director Kapur’s fluidity in resurrecting history above what could have so easily degenerated into a turgid and wordy exercise is most commendable. Whatever its shortcomings, the skilfully sewn together screenplay manages to fit a lot of history in just under two hours, but more importantly, it makes everything seem larger than life.Blanchett delivers a more deeply nuanced performance this time around.

In the first film she played it appropriately naïve throughout most of Elizabeth’s formidable struggles to ascending the throne. The second film is all about analyzing what to do once absolute power has been achieved; how not to let it get the better of the human spirit and how to maintain it in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. The film’s social critique notwithstanding, Elizabeth: The Golden Age an absorbing historical action/melodrama, worthy of our admiration and renewed viewing.

Universal Home Video delivers a reference quality Blu-Ray with an image that is utterly gorgeous; rich, vibrant, bold and eye-popping in its colors. Reds are blood red. Whites are pristine. Flesh tones are accurately rendered. Contrast levels are bang on with very robust, deep and solid blacks. Fine details are evident even during the darkest scenes. Truly, there is nothing to complain about.

The audio is lossless HD, delivering an pronounced bass during action sequences. Dialogue sounds more natural in this sequel than it did in the original film. Extras are all direct imports from the standard DVD release in 2008, including four comprehensive featurettes on the making of the film – each covering a specific aspect. There are also several previews and a thoroughly engrossing audio commentary to enjoy. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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