The way Elizabeth begins, with it’s intensely epic music, blunt summary of history and horrific images of burning heretics writhing in flames at the stake, makes it feel like a historical horror film. That’s not a bad thing, the turmoil England was in between Henry VIII and Elizabeth is shown with a little more style, but just as much gore and gusto as history allows. Throughout the film you’ll see people tortured, beheaded, said heads are put on spikes and a decent amount of sex. Really, if you’re looking for a more red-blooded approach to British history, Elizabeth is it.
As the quick bursts of text will tell you, the film beings while Mary (Kathy Burke) is on the throne, but she has no heir, leaving Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) (“born of that whore Boleyn” and a Protestant) next in line. There is also turmoil brewing across England pinning Catholics and Protestants against one another, Catholics calling Protestants heretics. Should Mary let Elizabeth succeed her to the throne, she wants to make sure Elizabeth will uphold the Catholic church, but she can make no guarantee.
Elizabeth’s lifestyle is not fitting for a monarch as she assumes the throne. She is having an openly passionate romance with the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). There is pressure from all around for Elizabeth to marry and produce an heir, only then will she have security. And some of her advisors are not to be trusted. But Elizabeth is young, rebellious and idealistic for a queen and believes for a while that she can continue her carefree, romantic lifestyle while ruling England and charming the old Bishops into a single church of England. With her trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush)he soon learns that she will not be taken seriously if she continues to portray herself this way, and we witness the amazing transformation from young Elizabeth to the chalk-faced historical figure, with all the sensuality of a nun, we’ve seen in textbooks that transformed England to new prosperity.
I love how Cate Blanchett has this natural style of beauty that seems a little unconventional. There’s something that makes me feel she is from an older world, but it’s positively radiant. She has the perfect look for portraying a young Queen Elizabeth and gives her a lively, passionate and cunning personality. One of the most striking moments is during the coronation, where she looks so pale, young and old, frail and powerful all at once under that long sweeping cloak. Later, her transformation into The Virgin Queen is just visually astounding, putting Mozart’s Requiem as the soundtrack is a perfect fit.
“I may be a woman, Sir William, but if I choose I have the heart of a man! I am my father’s daughter, and I am not afraid of anything.”