Rated R - Running time: 2:04 - Released 11/6/98

The reign of Elizabeth I of England, from 1558 to 1603, is a fascinating story, full of the kind of intrigue scriptwriters always attempt to create. The daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, sister to "Bloody Mary" and one of the most famous independent women in history, Elizabeth ruled for 45 years without ever marrying, despite constant advances by suitors from various European countries and the fact that it was considered every monarch's duty to provide heirs to the throne. But, her lack of offspring notwithstanding, Elizabeth's reign has been referred to as a "golden age" of England thanks to her many wise decisions and her uncanny talent at preventing conflict between the usually antagonistic European nations.

Elizabeth, a film written by Michael Hirst and directed by Shekhar Kapur, chronicles the events leading up to Liz I's accession and the beginning of her reign, when it was still quite unclear whether she would survive the appointment. Unfortunately, though accoutered with beautiful production values and excellent acting, Kapur's Elizabeth drains much life out of this interesting story, resulting in a dark, ponderous saga that crawls at times. Moreover, Hirst's script crams many important events of Liz's life into the film even though it is intended only to capture her first few years on the throne.

Cate Blanchett (Oscar And Lucinda) does a fine job as the independent monarch, not only resembling her physically but putting true emotion and lifeblood into this much-lectured-about historical figure. Her relationship with Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare In Love), a gentleman of the court with whom Elizabeth had the closest thing to a romantic affair, is properly obscured by Kapur; we see that they care deeply for each other but the idea of sex is only hinted at.

Other standout performances are by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine) as Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's sinister ally; Fanny Ardant as Mary of Guise, the war-happy French regent; and Christopher Eccleston as the Duke of Norfolk, the courtier who plots against Liz throughout the film.

As the short but tumultuous reign of "Bloody" Mary I (Kathy Burke) comes to an end, the dying queen makes a reconciliation of sorts with her half-sister, Elizabeth. However, Protestant Liz (Blanchett) does not agree to continue Mary's allegiance with the Catholic church. Mary's low approval rating came from her making toast out of hundreds of Protestants, as is vividly depicted in the opening scene where three such "heretics" burn at the stake.

After Elizabeth is crowned, the gang-suiting begins, since no one thinks she can do her job without some testosterone in the house. Prince Phillip of Spain is the primary candidate, but since the English people detest the idea of a Spanish ruler, she balks. Another choice is France's Duc d'Anjou (Vincent Cassel), who actually shows up in person. But when Liz finds him wearing a dress, she decides marrying him would mean sharing her wardrobe. She can't marry Dudley, so she dismays everyone by opting for the life of a bachelorette. And surprise, surprise--it turns out she can make informed decisions after all.

This film will probably be nominated for an Oscar for best costume design; Alexandra Byrne's impeccable stylings have already been nominated once for Hamlet (1996). As is usual with period dramas, the music (by David Hirschfelder) and production design (by John Myhre) are also very effective and noteworthy. The feel of 16th-century Europe is captured; the mood is right. But Hirst's fiddling with the facts may annoy history buffs, and Kapur's dark interpretation may turn off some mainstream moviegoers. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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