Last night, I attended a screening of the forthcoming and quite silly "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," the sequel to Shekhar Kapur's first Elizabeth film that shot Cate Blanchett to the top. It was intriguing for me because I had just spent some time writing a short essay on the occasion of November's new Dylan biopic, "I'm Not There," for which Blanchett, decked out in an afro and hipster garb, just won an award at Venice. (Yes, she plays the freewheelin' prophet of songwriting among six other actors in the only film about himself the musician ever sanctioned.) But to see her take on the role of Elizabeth I again was stimulating--but not for the right reasons. Surprise, but the "Elizabeth" sequel verges on cartoon it's so shoddily pasted together--including unexplained subplots, undeveloped characters, and so much chintzy soap drama, HBO's "The Tudors" looks like a PBS documentary.
Not even Blanchett's genuine attempt at finding this legendary woman's inner fear and isolation--at one point in the film, she says something to the effect of acting as if she sees her subjects through a pane of glass--could save the flick. Nor could the increasingly less captivating Clive Owen in a caricaturish impression of the man historians have fictionalized as explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, purveyor of New World potatoes (yum), tobacco, and Spanish gold. Blanchett still maintains her command of the screen in many ways, even showing a layered if modernly manic vulnerable side to the lady that would be prince (though it gets tiresome and repetitive even if she's divine in more ways than one). And there's plenty of opulence on set. I don't know about you but when I see people murdered, I want to see what they look like after having their arms bluntly amputated first.
But here's what really stands out 12 hours after seeing the spectacle: 1) Samantha Morton's unintentionally hilarious rendition of Mary Queen of Scots, pulsing her murderous fists while screaming in a Scrooge McDuckish brogue; 2) That Kapur hired Johnny Depp's dopey coke-dealer jail-friend from "Blow" to play a retarded-seeming version of Spain's King Philip; 3) That the short and disgusting Spanish ambassador had gigantically curvy lips, a totally racist account of Spanish men (let's just say it: all Brits didn't and still don't look like Clive Owen); 4) The silly Armada invasion sequence during which the Spanish scream "Fire ships!" in horror as the Brit boats obviously sail ablaze while the Queen, herself, watches from the rocky shores, alone and unprotected.
Even funnier, perhaps, was the real life stuff. Geoffrey Rush was (in his words, "unfortunately,") present in L.A. for the post-screening Q&A, where he discussed how he didn't really have to convince Cate to do the movie even if that's the story the press has latched onto. But then Kapur, the soft spoken Bombay-based director, added, as if he hadn't been listening, that if it wasn't for Rush's convincing of Cate to do a sequel that wouldn't feel like a sequel (oh, come on), the movie never would have been made. Rush didn't look pleased. But what immediately became evident was that Queen Cate probably only signed on to do this movie with the caveat that all cast and crew would have to speak constantly about her apprehension concerning a sequel as if this might protect her from critical attacks during her current reign. Not likely, but I wonder if this publicity note wasn't even written into her contract. It seemed like a point of contention, and something that had to be shared with the public whenever the film is mentioned.
What struck me most was that such seemingly mature men and women feel the need to engage in such childish entertainment at this point in their wealthy, seasoned lives. I guess the money doesn't hurt. But didn't this take a lot of time to produce? Time they could have been, well, living? I hope that if I ever sustain the sort of wealth that these actors and directors enjoy, I will be able to focus on more substantive diversions. But that's just me: a writer who has yet to be given $10 million to play swash-buckling dress-up in service of reinforcing stereotypes about people who made war in the name of God 500 years ago (like we don't have enough of them in our daily lives). Oh, Elizabeth: We've missed ya.
Why Glass Shallot?
Because it's tastier than a raw Virgina potato, even from the Midas-like hands of Clive Owen.