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visually wonderful, historically--not so much!!
osiyo195415 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say first that while I loved this movie for Cate Blanchett's great acting,for the visuals and even the soundtrack, I can't help but wonder how filmmakers can so blatantly reinvent history! I saw this movie in the theater,and had to literally bite my tongue all through it not to shout out loud at the totally fictive events, strangely telescoped time line, and juggling of names and characters.It's not like Elizabeth I is some obscure figure in English or world history. You would think SOMEONE involved in the production of this movie might have bothered to look something (anything!!)up!

I can only conclude that the makers of this film had NO intention of portraying Elizabeth's personality, intelligence, forcefulness, and political acumen accurately, let alone the events of her life and reign.The portrayal of her as faltering and weak in the beginning is hard to swallow, as she was politically subtle and well versed in the arts of intrigue from the cradle.

Although so many so-called historical films are not accurate, or portray history through a particular bias, this one must be called total fiction. It's much quicker to name the parts that ARE correct. Let's see, there was this Queen of England named Elizabeth--and..well, that's pretty much it!

They did sprinkle a lot of her famous quotes throughout, though at completely the wrong times and in the wrong situations. Alas!

And did anyone realize that the filmmakers had the wrong Duc D'Anjou? The Duc who liked to cross-dress was the older brother of the Duc who was proposed as her suitor. He had previously held that title, but was King of France at the time of his younger brother's (and present Duc D'Anjou's) suit for Elizabeth.Close, but no cigar.

I found especially ridiculous the implication at the end of the story that she was through with Robert Dudley, after his (fictional)betrayal of her. Any biography of Elizabeth is replete with references to the huge part he played in her life, both politically and personally.

I needn't go on-- I can't go on! The inaccuracies are legion, and have been mentioned in other reviews. If you don't give a tinker's damn about even approaching anything like historical accuracy, this is the movie for you. Otherwise see Elizabeth R or better yet--read a book about her.
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Queen Blanchett
MaxBorg8913 January 2008
The Academy Awards ceremony of 1999 angered many people: Shakespeare in Love, albeit a very smart and funny film, robbed the superior Saving Private Ryan of the Best Picture Oscar; Roberto Benigni beat Edward Norton in the Best Actor category (though it was the Italian star's behavior, rather than his performance, that irritated those attending the event); and Gwyneth Paltrow, who wasn't actually bad in Shakespeare, walked away with the Best Actress award, depriving Cate Blanchett of the recognition she should have received for her revelatory work in Elizabeth.

This film, the first in what the director hopes will be a trilogy (the second installment was released in 2007), covers the early years of Elizabeth I's reign, from her harsh upbringing to the decision to call herself "the Virgin Queen". To describe her situation as tough is an understatement: she was a Protestant monarch in a largely Catholic kingdom, several covert groups wanted her dead and foreign sovereigns kept asking for her hand in marriage, without ever succeeding, for the only man she loved was also the only one she couldn't have.

Conspiracies and unhappy romances: two unusual ingredients for a period drama. And that is exactly why the film succeeds: in the mind of director Shekhar Kapur, this is not the usual costume film where events are observed with a static eye and what might be perceived by some as excessive slowness (Quentin Tarantino's infamous rant about "Merchant-Ivory sh*t" is aimed at those productions); instead, we get a lively, vibrant piece of work, with the camera sweeping through the gorgeous sets and leering at the exquisite costumes while recounting the grand story. And what a story: the thriller aspect aims to please viewers who find the genre a bit lacking in the tension department, whereas the Queen's doomed love affair with Joseph Fiennes' Earl of Leicester (a plot element to which the BBC miniseries from 2005, starring Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons, is a sort of sequel) is the polar opposite of the sanitized, passionless romantic tales that tend to feature in other period films.

Good-looking technique and strong storytelling would, however, be useless if the title role wasn't played by an equally great actress, and Pakur found the perfect Elizabeth in Blanchett: an odd choice she may have seemed (she was a complete unknown in Hollywood prior to being cast in this movie), but the performance she delivers is nothing short of astonishing. Doubtful, determined, passionate, naive, heartbroken, firm and charismatic - she is quite simply the best on-screen incarnation of Elizabeth in the long history of biopics. The supporting cast (Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough) is also excellent, as expected from British and Australian thespians, but it is Blanchett who dominates the entire picture. Shame the Academy didn't take notice.
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A small nudge in the direction of romanticism…
Nazi_Fighter_David4 October 2008
And Elizabeth did whisper Robert Dudley's name on her deathbed… The movie is an imaginative interpretation of the way that things could have been…

Shekhar Kapur's film explores the instabilities of her reign, and the absolute horror and terror that surrounded the early part of her royal office without neglecting her relationship with her terminally ill sister… So it's a glimpse of her girlhood into statehood, and the shedding that occurs, with the people who expended in her life along the way…

The film shows Elizabeth growing up in an incredibly unstable, tumultuous environment… But she's an absolute survivor... Someone who has got no solid ground on which she walks… So one minute she's a bastard, the next minute she's a princess, then one moment she's an illegitimate daughter, then she's a queen… And it's a very relevant period of her life, because she was 25 when she became a female monarch…

There are four men in Elizabeth's life and all have quite different influences on what it means for a young woman to run the country so young, given that she comes to the throne under very difficult political circumstances…

There's Sir Cecil (Attenborough) who's from an older regime giving her the traditions and the conventions that are the most orthodox; Sir Francis (Geoffrey Rush) Elizabeth's great spy master, very astute, almost puritanical and rather dry bureaucrat; Robert Dudley (Fiennes) with whom the film suggests that she has quite a passionate, private relationship; and Norfolk (Eccleston), a major rival who doesn't regard that she is suitable to rule his England…

The motion picture succeeds in developing Elizabeth's change and, basically, locks off parts of herself, and dehumanizes herself in order to wield her power among men…
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Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured.
walshio15 December 1998
England. 1555. Henry VIII has snuffed it from gout or syphilis, it depends on who you read, Bloody Mary's got a tumour and the Catholics' greatest fear is Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth. Director Kapur has brought to the screen some of the most intriguing moments in English history and the result is dazzling.

Following recent grandiose French historical epics, such as the glorious Ridicule, Elizabeth more than holds its own as a no-holds barred, gripping English extravaganza. Historians across the land will no doubt pick holes in the accuracy, but it hardly matters.

The opening scene signals the film's intent. Protestant heretics are burnt mercilessly at the grisly stake, accompanied by proclamations that they should burn in Hell. It's clear that England is in a pretty gloomy state and ruled by a humourless zealot, Mary (the ubiquitous Kathy Burke), who is hell-bent on converting or murdering Elizabeth: "My sister was born a whore of that Ann Boleyn."

Cheery Mary rules a poor, remote island that is very likely to become the next possession of the growing empire of Spain. She is surrounded by rebels who want to place the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne. So, Mary gets her trusted Lord Norfolk (Eccleston cuts an impressive presence; you can imagine this man swishing on the battlefield) to arrest Lizzy and dispatch her to the Tower of London.

The camerawork and the pace of this film are breathtaking. Kapur directs with ambitious panache, whilst supplying more than a wink to Coppola's The Godfather in the process. Two scenes in particular reek of the Mafia masterpiece: one in the Vatican, the other a succession of assassinations sparked by the majesty's demand, "let it all be done". Pure Pacino.

If you shimmy past the slightly silly inclusions of the likes of Eric Cantona (the IKEA School of Acting) and Angus Deayton, and the fact that Dickie Attenborough (plays a fussy sidekick who sniffs the Queen's bedsheets and claims, "her body belongs to the State") is starting to resemble an Ewok, the acting is otherwise splendid.

Cate Blanchett not only resembles the great lady, but imparts her with enormous affection (her love of Lord Dudley, played by Fiennes, is tenderly dealt with) and delivers her lines with a steely intelligence, "I do not see why a woman must marry at all" and "I'm no man's Elizabeth" . Her performance is a revelation and if it weren't for Geoffrey Rush she would have stolen every scene. However, the Shine star, playing her demonic sidekick Walsingham, delights in creeping in the shadows and pulling the devilish strings. A positively Machiavellian turn and worthy of another Oscar.

This is a history film made at its very finest and the equal of A Man For All Seasons. Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured. Intoxicating imagery ("English blood on French colours" the wicked Mary of Guise, Ardant, proclaims), naughty shenanigans, dastardly deeds, an epic tale and a superb cast. Stunning cinema.
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Hollywood Fiction
chaucer-110 January 2005
Anyone who is looking for an historically accurate representation of the early years of Elizabeth 1's reign had best pass this one by. As far as this type of drama is concerned it has some superficial charm in respect to location, costumes and casting but the hideous distortions of fact are so blatant and so pervasive that the film becomes almost satirical. William Cecil cast as an ancient white-bearded dotard for example - Cecil was actually a mere 38 years old during the period portrayed. Why Hollywood feels obliged to revise history so often (shades of 'Braveheart' and 'The Patriot') is a mystery. Usually the real history is far more dramatic than anything the Hollywood hacks can dream up. Probably the only character who was reasonably treated in this particular film was Geoffrey Rush's Walsingham.
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Disappointing Hollywood Fluff
gringo_loco81211 August 2000
As the post movie text explains, Queen Elizabeth's reign is often referred to as the Golden Age for England. She helped establish the a power structure that continued for centuries after her death.

The acting may have been okay, but I couldn't get past how this movie wastes such a rich story and character. Her life was filled with grand struggles and intrigues, yet this movie spends endless scene after endless scene showing her dancing in court and fawning after Sir Robert. We are led to believe that she ascended to the throne as a simple naive girl and fortunately was transformed into a powerful queen.

Give me a break. I can't stand that kind of Hollywood crap. Her political skill and cunning were forged long before the crown was placed on her head. She didn't dance around the may pole far off in the country, oblivious to the court and politics. Her father was Henry the VIII. Portray her with the obvious metal she had from a very early age.

I had difficulty not fast forwarding through the whole movie. Fortunately, the movie gets a little better in the last 30 minutes (why I rated it a 4). Watch in on TV during the Summer sometime.
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Creative camera work
CCO-315 December 1998
During the opening credits the camera hovers high above three people being burned at the stake, what an angle, as the fire consumes them in a maelstrom. The cineamatography was so incredibly creative, very Hitchcockian. One need not possess any knowledge of history to make sense of the plot and story. Like a good mystery there were subtle nuances. Glances between characters that foreshadowed events and interactions to come, such as the woman that betrays Norfolk, and the child that inadvertently reveals his father's hiding place. The story wasn't exactly historically accurate, but it got my 15-year-old interested in Elizabethen England. Call it artistic license. The movie was so lush, so complex that I easily saw it twice without becoming bored. Terrific acting, fabulous costumes, great staging.
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One of the finest historical dramas in years.
EThompsonUMD29 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
As far as Academy Award recognition is concerned, 'Elizabeth' was unfortunately released in the same year (1998) as the much slicker, more crowd-pleasing 'Shakespeare in Love,' a fine comic film but as much over-praised as 'Elizabeth' was overlooked. It certainly borders on the absurd, if not the criminal, that Gwyneth Paltrow's simpering, one-note performance as Viola was handed the Best Actress Award over Cate Blanchett's truly magnificent performance in the title role of 'Elizabeth,' a film whose tracing of Elizabeth's transformation from teenage frolicker to commanding 'Virgin Queen' presented an enormous challenge of acting range that Blanchett met with aplomb.

Curiously, 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Elizabeth' not only share the presence of Elizabeth I as an historical character, albeit at opposite ends of her nearly 50 year reign, but also two prominent cast members: Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush. Although Fiennes' role as the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's lover prior to her Virgin Queen persona days, is smaller (and far less winning) than his lead role in 'Shakespeare in Love,' he again cuts a convincing figure in 16th century costume. On the other hand, Geoffrey Rush's performance as Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's utterly ruthless yet completely loyal bodyguard and Machiavellian tutor, is endlessly and hypnotically fascinating – a performance that steals movies in movies whose leads are less arresting than Ms. Blanchett.

Yet, in an ironic reversal of Hollywood's usual denigration of comedy in favor of 'serious' drama, it was Rush's much smaller comic performance in 'Shakespeare' that secured him the 1998 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Ordinarily, I'd applaud such recognition of comic art and talent, but in this instance it represents another miscarriage of justice. Rush's tone and bearing as he delivers line after line of blood-chilling dialog make Walsingham a character I expect never to forget. 'You were Norfolk,' he responds to the protests of the insufferably arrogant Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth's chief nemesis, as he leads him away to the Tower, 'the dead have no titles.'

Of course, Elizabeth gets off many a great line of her own, as in her unforgettable final rejection of Leicester: 'I am not your Elizabeth. I am no man's Elizabeth. I shall have one mistress here. And no master!' A little later she gives license to Walsingham to proceed with the political cleansing of the realm with a laconic transcendence of her 'womanly' emotions: 'let it all be done.' Still another memorable line marks the final stage of her political education and her departure from the wishy-washy diplomacy represented by Lord Burleigh (her former chief minister, finely played by Sir Richard Attenborough in his final film role): 'Observe, Lord Burleigh, I am married … to England.'

Elizabeth ultimately forges a political philosophy that combines elements of Walsingham's cynical wariness with an ideal of self-abnegating service to England ('my people'). She envisions a strong, secular England capable of rising above the internecine religious strife initiated by her father's departure from the Roman Catholic Church and depicted in graphic horror in the film's opening sequence. In so doing she succeeds in mapping out England's course toward a stable, advanced society whose history would include a lengthy period of world domination. This film does full justice to the dilemmas of church-state conflict, to the complex character of the queen herself, and to the rich historical milieu that produced her. It is one of the finest historical dramas to have appeared in decades.
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What Tamed Passion!
PivoGirl13 July 2000
In a year overwhelmed with reminiscent films, Elizabeth rises above the rest to become one of few stunning manifestations of the Hollywood Renaissance. Certainly acknowledged by the Oscars garnering 7 nominations, Shekhar Kapur's intimate portrait of a young Elizabeth further expands the modern view on a distant monarch, whose maturing reign as well as taming nature continued to dazzle the 20th century viewers.

Presented here by a superb cast led by Golden-Globe winner Cate Blanchett, early Elizabethean era turmoil and upheaval are captured brilliantly. The lush set itself is a feast for the eye as the audience is drawn to follow a passionate young Elizabeth's path. Against the dark setting of medieval stone castles, a blooming Golden Age approaches as England expands to take control in a world of great unrest after Catholic Queen Mary's death. Her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth daughter of Anne Bolyne is placed on a throne of a kingdom torn between religion. Cate Blanchett does a fabulous job capturing the details of a frustrated young woman waking to the merciless reality of queenhood--surrounded by enemies such as Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston). Constantly by her side is her reverent adviser Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) who advises Elizabeth to marry for convenience choosing from a "pool" of ready political candidates--while Elizabeth herself is long set on her lover from the past Sir Robert Dudley (a charming Joseph Fiennes). Yet just as England learns to wake up from the medieval dream, Elizabeth learns the bitterness of betrayal as she looks to Sir Francis Walsingham (Jeffrey Rush)'s counsel.

Focusing on Elizabeth's subtle changes of phase from fire to ice at a distant in the midst of a grander panorama beautifully shot, the audience gradually distinguishes her footsteps from the shedding of innocence to a tough ruler that dares to strike first against her enemies, to ultimately become the Virgin Queen to reign above all men.
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My favorite film of 1998!
smig19 December 1999
Cate Blanchett's performance was awe-inspiring and has made me a fan for life. She should have won the Oscar in 1998.

Terrific performances from the other principal actors, excellent costume/art direction and cinematography, a good script (if you can relax any standards of strict historiography you might have, if any) and well-paced direction and editing make for a terrific period piece.

I loved this movie and raved about it for weeks afterward.
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Who can tell for sure how it really was?
lulia3 May 1999
I just watched Elizabeth, for the second time and once again I was ...what would be the word...moved? Not in the teary-eyed sense, but in a way that makes you want to read more about Elizabeth I.

However, I have read other comments and two things occurred to me. First, that many people (brilliant scholars or erudite people whom I respect) pretend that "it did not look that way" or " it did not happen that way", such and such. Who are you to tell? History is not an exact science, it is a HUMAN way to try and keep in touch with the events that shaped the world we live in. Being interested in history and costume history myself, nothing STRIKE me as BLATANTLY anachronistic. I think that Mr. Kapur primarily wanted to illustrate Elizabeth's rise to power, not her entire reign, which would take several films. His film is an account of an episode of English history, not a chronic on life in Tudor England, hence the lack of filth and lice, as someone mentioned... The second element is a more personal one, that in fact came to my mind while watching the film: how could Cate Blanchett lose the Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow, of all people?! Her performance in Shakespeare in Love was charming, no less but no more. I think that trying to catch the conscience of a queen, to make an illustrious historic figure come to life is far more difficult than playing William Shakespeare's (fictitious) love interest.

It was my humble opinion, and I wanted to share it with other IMDB users.
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Particularly bad music.
agm26 October 1998
This film, posted as a "bodice ripper", was in fact tame to the point of dullness. Even worse, I felt that details of the plot and action were sometimes hopelessly absurd: for example can you imagine the Queen fornicating in view of her ladies in waiting? or a priest committing violent murder even in England of the 1550s? or that Queen Mary Tudor really was so ugly? To make a film of this sort dramatically effective, it must be convincing in its detail, and this "Elizabeth" was not.

However my major grievance is the music. We are long accustomed to lush string tone attempting to summon up the atmosphere of Olde Worlde Englande, but Walton did it so much better ("Touch her sweet lips and part" - this was real music). Here we have a pastiche of a pastiche, with all the lumbering dullness of so many bad period costume dramas of the past. For example, the "Volta" was a dance thought lascivious at the time - not a hint of this from the music here! The quotation from Elgar's "Enigma" (with a wordless female chorus - bless us) seemed hopelessly inappropriate and the pseudo-Handelian chorus at the end nearly had me falling out of my seat.

Film music CAN be good - for example, that of Prokofiev and Walton, good enough to stand alone - but so rarely is.
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A very good try
LeTiss3 June 1999
As soccer legend Eric Cantona's former colleagues might say this is a film of two halves. Despite an intimidating opening scene, the first half soon settles down to establishing who everyone is - the bad guys drip malevolence, while the good guys dance in gay meadows. It is not until the second half that the politics and intrigue really get going.

The film opens in England, circa 1550s. The country is divided, half of the population pledging allegiance to the childless catholic Queen Mary who is dying, while the other half attempt to place their protestant liege, Elizabeth, on the throne.

Mary dies before providing an heir so the monarchy automatically passes to Elizabeth. However, she inherits a rebellious court keen to see her removed and a catholic monarch installed. Fortunately for Elizabeth, there are not enough candidates for the job. While, the evil Duke of Norfolk plots to put himself and Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne, Elizabeth's supporters rush around trying to find her a suitable international king.

The crux comes when she declares she is only interested in her English lover, Lord Robert Dudley. When her enemies learn of this, they try to drive a wedge between them. And from this premise the real intrigue flows.

In terms of characterisation, the film scores some hits and some misses. Some curious casting decisions undermine a few of the characters - working class mainstay Kathy Burke moves to the opposite end of the social spectrum to play Queen Mary, Brit comic Angus Deayton has an unnecessary cameo, while Eric Cantona seems an odd choice, although his performance seems adequate.

As to the main characters, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is well charted from gamboling youth to ice-hard queen. The black loyalty of Sir Francis Wolsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is tested time and again and never found wanting, allowing him to grow from mistrusted bodyguard to Queen's adviser.

Unfortunately the Queen's enemies are so numerous it is difficult to focus on one. Michael Hirst, the writer, chooses the Duke of Norfolk as the chief villain but we never really learn why, or what his plans, beyond unseating Elizabeth, are. Christopher Ecclestone plays the Duke with the right amount of menace but we are never truly intimidated by his smouldering glare. Lord Robert (Joseph Fiennes) is an equally confused character. Is he guilty of the crimes he is accused of? Does he love the queen? Some of his behaviour suggests he does not, yet he constantly returns to her claiming he does. The uncertainty generated by Lord Robert is compounded by the fact that Joseph Fiennes does not belong in this film.

Beyond the characters, many of the films finest moments come in the form of the brightly coloured set pieces - when the court takes to the boat lake, the arrival of the french prince and the coronation. Some of the blacker scenes also serve very well - the aftermath of the battle, the plotting in the Vatican.

Despite the fine art direction, what we are eventually left with is a sumptuous, well made film let down by a slow start and a few undefined characters.
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Historically inaccurate portrait of the early reign of Elizabeth I of England
dwr24624 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I was a big fan of the BBC series, "Elizabeth R," starring Glenda Jackson, so I was intrigued to see how this movie was going to portray Elizabeth's reign. What I found was a dark, violent, and ultimately inaccurate portrayal of one of my favorite periods of history.

The movie covers Elizabeth's treatment under her half-sister, Mary's reign, her subsequent ascension to the throne upon Mary's death, and the early years of her reign. Information about these people and events is readily available from a number of sources, so one wonders how Michael Hirst managed to put together such an inaccurate portrait of this period. Mary Tudor was not the doddering old fool she is portrayed as here, even though most of her actions as queen were misguided. Neither was Elizabeth as uneducated in the ways of court as she is presented to be. And while Dudley was certainly a favorite of Elizabeth's she never slept with him (there is a reason she was called "the Virgin Queen" after all). Also, she knew him well when they were in the tower together during Mary's reign. She knew he was married. It was what saved his life. Her "discovery" of this fact wouldn't have been a shocking betrayal because there was nothing to discover. Likewise, he would never have plotted against her. He knew where his bread was buttered. Walsingham was a trusted adviser, but not the only one Elizabeth could turn to, nor was he the murderer he is made out to be in this film. And Cecil left her service for his own reasons, not because she tired of him and banished him.

Visually, the film is quite dark. Many scenes take place at night, or in secluded places shut away from the light. Even those in the daylight have a furtiveness about them that gives the whole film an element of paranoia which is quite distracting. While the violence is true to the times, it is excessive, and we could live without seeing the beheading.

The cast does a good job with the material they are given. Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth is a bit naive, but still charming. Joseph Fiennes' Dudley is charismatic. Geoffrey Rush's Walsingham is a cipher, as though Rush were unsure whether to portray Walsingham as trustworthy or menacing, and ended up doing neither very well. Christopher Eccleston's Norfolk bristles with evil and menace. Lewis Jones' murderous priest is so over the top that you can't wait for him to get his. Also over the top, although far more entertaining, is Vincent Cassel's Duc d'Anjou. Fanny Ardant strikes the right balance with her portrayal of Mary of Guise. Richard Attenborough's Cecil is quite noble.

Clearly Hirst sacrificed accuracy for entertainment's sake. He did have some success in this, as it is an entertaining film. But if you really want to learn about this period, get the first two episodes of the BBC series "Elizabeth R," and watch those. They present a far more accurate picture of the beginning of the Elizabethan period.
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highly disappointing
satuit5921 July 2007
To say that this movie takes liberty with historical fact is a gross understatement. I like Blanchett as an actress, but this movie was so far from accurate as to fall in the category of fiction. About the only thing it got right was the names of key figures. One fact regarding Elizabeth and Dudley was glaring in its omission. If this movie renders anyone with a desire to read historical information on this much celebrated queen, excellent. Hers is a story worth learning. I have read a few books on Her Majesty, and much enjoyed Glenda Jackson's portrayal in the BBC mini series. That is why I checked this movie out, certainly withholding any expectation of quality and accuracy as presented by the BBC. I am so glad I saw this fairy tale before I actually paid money for it. It was a pretty film, but seeing how it was so far off the mark historically, I can't even say that the acting was exceptional. Oscar worthy? Perhaps if it had any basis in historical reality it may have been.
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Corny, Cliched and Boring.
Gerald-87 February 1999
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen and one of only three ever that I have almost walked out of!

Shekar Kapur's Bollywood style may be ideal for an Indian story like Bandit Queen, but here it comes across as pulling out all the lighting and camera cliches in the business.

Elizabeth has one of the most fantastic casts ever assembled - and they're all awful (with the possible exception of Cate Blanchett and John Gielgud - who in any case only has a 30 second non-speaking part)! If only they had underplayed it, or shown a degree of subtlety, then this might have been so much better. Such a shame to see great old actors like Richard Attenborough embarrassing himself, and great younger ones like Christopher Ecclestone so over the top. Joseph Fiennes is just bad!

The most serious problem is that this movie is just tediously boring. No plot, and nothing to hold my interest for so long.

I can't see what the fuss is about this one, and think that the makers must consider themselves very lucky they got away with some acclaim out of this one - let alone their careers!
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Virgin Acting (and Why)
tedg29 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

The first job of fine film in my estimation is to transport our minds through our eyes to another realm. This often requires dangerous adventure on the part of the artists concerned, most necessarily the director. Rarely does it occur in British-made historical costume drama. That's because they are constrained by a stuffy notion of the static observance of `important events.' In such dramas, the character displayed has to hold our interest; all else (particularly in costuming) adds a reverent poise.

This is better than that. Elizabeth is an important figure for sure, certainly among the few most influential to my life. She broke the back of Catholic meddling in civil affairs, establishing the first (albeit fragile and oft submerged) notions of state-sponsored freedom of religion. She was the first post-renaissance monarch to elevate plebian arts, as much responsible for Shakespeare as the writer himself. She was a master at coopting religious archetypes to manipulate the masses. All of this is the matter of this film. (She also tacitly encouraged Thomas Harriot in inventing what we now know as algebraic logic, but that's outside the scope of this film which deals with the simpler forces of war and brutish Papism.)

But that's not what entrances. Instead it is a combination of the director's commitment to highlight destiny as the focus, and the art of Ms Cate in projecting, infusing her personality into her surroundings.

This director is unknown to me. He seems to be of that swelling class of competent, self-aware directors without pretense. There's no dogma here, only knowing craft, especially in the eye of the camera. His DVD commentary is very good - listen to him share his notions of the eye, even to the eyes on her bedroom lace, the eye of the cross-shaped windows, the schizophrenic eye, the scheming eye. He's not a master, but he is better than what he attempts. (Compare this to the stage-struck eye of Merchant-Ivory.)

But the key ingredient here is Cate Blanchett. This woman lives in her surroundings. She is as vulnerable to fate and as open to voyeuristic examination as Emily Watson, but she is as commanding (when needed) of her environment as say Pacino (to pick an extreme case, and so flawed). Compare this to the imperious Dench (and many others) to see how important is that former quality. (There must be an Australian acting coach that teaches this, as others from Sydney show this awareness.)

The director sees this, and has been adept at building wonderful surrounding characters.

See how Rush lobbies for a closed soul. He is perhaps our most celebrated closed actor. (Many others are closed, like Freeman and Hackman, but Rush has depth that they do not.) He ultimately wins and we grieve a little. (His surrogate is played by the quiet method actor Frain. See him in `Titus.' where he shines because of this.)

See how the completely open actor Fiennes tries to lure her into simple, emotional acting. (He would succeed the next year with the malleable Paltrow - with Rush providing the same contrast.) (His surrogate in this film was the explosive intuitive French suitor.)

See how the ultraminimalist Norfolk threatens with his theatrical intensity, the traditional theatrical style of acting opposing her filmic style. (In fact much can be said of how film style undermines superficial religion, which is why Pat Robertson invests billions in cooptation.) His surrogate is played by the inestimable Geilgud in a minimal part.

See how the master Cecil is played by the grand master of British film. Watch him try to guide her through destiny with a vision greater than the other characters, but less than us as viewers: we are given control over both the camera's eye of fate and the knowledge of how things `turn out.' Lord Attenborough's presence catalyzes Cate's, and he is outgrown. (Cate's mirror is the famed Fanny Ardant, who does not close off herself and so dies. Her acting style is also external, intuitive, flamboyant.)

Blanchett is a wonderful talent, here with all the support she needs. How lucky for her - and for us. What we are given is a film of actors about acting in a film, and the forces in conflict to command us as an emerging virtual `nation' of participants.
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A beautiful and intriguing film which captures the grace and barbarity of the era.
SAS-323 December 1998
The acting is superb as is the choreography. A very da Vinci-like use of like and dark in comparing the young and innocent Elizabeth with the corrupt and conspiracy ridden "royal court". Very compelling and interesting as the new queen, who is thrust, almost against her wish, into power, learns the nature of the beast she must tame and then rule. It may not be a blockbuster of an event, but you just don't find this level of acting in Hollywood. Yet, taken as a whole, the story reminded me of the Godfather, yet it takes place some 450 years in the past.
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Cicero-625 December 1998
The lavish costuming and sets and good performance by Cate Blanchett could not overcome the grossly inaccurate depiction of history.

First, the Catholics were all uniformly depicted as sexual libertines, murderers, and/or hypocrites. The portrayal of the Jesuit priest as a murderous 16th century commando was especially disgusting. St. Edmund Campion, one of those Jesuits, was martyred by Elizabeth for ministering to the faithful in England and refusing to renounce the Catholic Church for Elizabeth and the Church of England.

Second, William Cecil - Lord Burghley, was also seriously misportrayed. Cecil, in fact, was Elizabeth's closest advisor for a lengthy period of time; Sir Francis Walsingham was a subordinate to Cecil. Cecil was not the milksop portrayed in the movie.

Third, many of the cast looked like members of a 1990's Los Angeles street gang instead of characters from 16th century England.

I believe the high overall ratings given the film are a result of ignorance of history.
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dan_nw10 November 2000
Although I actually enjoyed the movie, I found the liberties taken with the history very frustrating. Especially since it was billed as an historical film!

The other problem I had with the film was the women's clothes. The costuming was atrocious! Most of the garments seemed to be based on popular fictionalized views of the 16th century. I mean, I even noticed someone wearing the Disney's Snow White dress all in blue! With so much information available on 16th century clothing there is no excuse.

I think the designer's claim that she wanted to do a "jeans & t-shirt" approach to the 16th century was a sign of laziness and silly (they had their own types of relaxed clothes - she didn't have to make it up).

When all is said and done, I did enjoy the film but, don't use it as a base for either history or costumes. In other words, enjoy the fairy tale but, don't use it for a refernce film.
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My intelligence and knowledge was insulted and disrespected.
pkv16 January 1999
Elizabeth, a film of historical dramatization, not historical fiction, appears to have been written, directed, and produced by people who have but poor knowledge and true comprehension for either their subject, Elizabeth I of England, or of the period, Renaissance Europe in the 16th Century. Even more grievous, in my view, is the makers' apparent assumption that their audience would know no better.

The film's conclusion that ER I devoted herself to the rule of England only after she had been betrayed by her lover, Essex, was both a disgusting stereotype of women (that they abandon sex and men after men behave as they will) and gross distortion through oversimplification of the immensely complex political, social, and religious on domestic and international levels that Elizabeth found herself thrust into.

In truth, ER was an adept student and observer of her father, Henry VIII, and, in that respect, a more than worthy successor to the transformation of the political map of Europe from the quasi-theocracy of the Middle Ages to secular government by sovereigns that understood that they had obligations to the land and people over whom they ruled. It is in this context that ER said "I am married to England." In so saying, she rejected the subjugation of England to either France or Spain that would have necessarily resulted from marriage to either the Duke of Anjou or the King Philipp of Spain. By rejecting an English consort, she kept herself out of the snake pit of scheming self-serving aristocrats that England had the misfortune to suffer under.

Yet, I have to believe that Elizabeth remained a vital woman. Her self-sacrifice to the land and people that were England were all the more remarkable because of the strength and vigor of her person. "Elizabeth" missed this point entirely and in so doing, dishonored one of the truly great people of world history and insulted and disserved movie audiences at the moment of embarking on a new millennium, when we need all of the insights and perspective that we can get.
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A Prison for Actors is created in "Elizabeth"
Methos-718 May 1999
Elizabeth is an exceedingly poor movie, and this is coming from someone who always watches a movie with an open mind and almost always has something good to say about a movie. The basic intention of any movie is to tell a story, and the story that is told in Elizabeth is not only inaccurate, it is also dull and boring. Historical accuracy means little to me when watching a film, as long as it can be comprehended. But this movie is not, and too many times fails in telling the story of the "Virgin Queen". I felt like reaching into the screen and asking why certain scenes were portrayed in the fashion that they were, the disconnected plot and movable characters defeat the purpose of telling a story about perhaps the most formidable monarch in English history.

Cate Blanchett is an exceptional young actress, who can be appreciated for her portrayal of Elizabeth, a woman who was confronted with suitors and questions regarding her faith. But in my opinion, continuity in the film was completely missing, and limited Cate's ability to bring her character to life. The lack of intensity in the film is startling when considering the subject matter and how important it was at the time. Many times it seemed as if the actors were begging to be allowed to act to their full capacity, while the script dictated that they could not.

With all the above said, it remains a fact that all of the actors in the film are exceptional and make the best of what they are given. Geoffrey Rush steals the show as Walsingham, who seeks to do all he can to protect his Queen. Joseph Fiennes as Dudley shows a man who loves Elizabeth but cannot ever marry her. As told in the movie, we learn that Elizabeth never knew he was already married. While in reality she did know, this fact does not harm the intrigue the two of them have while Elizabeth tries to secure her throne while loving Dudley at the same time. Kathy Burke does a great job as Mary Tudor, the miserable Queen who sought to convert her half-sister Elizabeth before she could ascend to the throne to replace her and her religion. Richard Attenborough as Cecil is limited by the character he is given, but stresses the reality of the time, once you become King or Queen, you are bound to your state. In the end, when Elizabeth declares herself the "Virgin Queen", and her service to England, Cecil's once trivial line becomes reality. The Duke of Norfolk's service to Mary Tudor and intrigues to overthrow Elizabeth are well portrayed by the commanding presence of Christopher Eccleston, who in the end signs away his life trying to take Elizabeth's.

After reading all of the praises I have for the acting in the movie, we must return to the reality that the film could have been better if told by a different director and with a different script. There is no denying the costume design, setting, and music are all well crafted and help to tell the intended story. But too many times the audience is left to imagine what could have been, and this is what I feel makes many label Elizabeth as a great movie. Too much is forced into this telling of the legendary Queen of England, and many people see it for what it could have been, not what it is: actors without direction or a well-crafted story to tell.
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Could have been so much better
adherennium30 April 2000
The casting here was excellent, the performances on the whole very good, but alas the film itself I thought dire. The screwed up history of a period I've a great fondness for, meant that I just could not enjoy this film. It just left me wondering why? Why did the writers of this film think that their very inaccurate script would be more interesting and exciting than events as they actually happened?

It could have been so much better.
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Stylised Historical Pageant
JamesHitchcock13 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Elizabeth" deals with the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. We first see her as a frightened young princess learning to survive at the court of her dangerously unpredictable sister Mary, who comes close to having Elizabeth executed because of her supposed involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion and because of her ambivalent religious loyalties. Even when Mary dies and Elizabeth succeeds her on the throne, her position seems hardly easier. At the age of 25, Elizabeth has inherited a near-bankrupt kingdom, threatened from outside by powerful foreign rivals and from within by religious dissensions between Catholics and Protestants. The Duke of Norfolk, a powerful Catholic nobleman, threatens Elizabeth with open rebellion. The film tells the story of how she overcame all these challenges to make herself the unchallenged ruler of England.

Elizabeth is often regarded as a Protestant ruler, but this is perhaps an oversimplification of her religious position, which was closer to that of the Vicar of Bray. Under her Protestant brother Edward VI, she was a Protestant. Under Mary she was, at least outwardly, a Catholic. When she inherited the throne herself, she formulated the concept of a single Church of England, independent of the Papacy, to act as a broad church for all English Christians. (The Anglican Church has never declared itself to be exclusively Protestant, and since 1559 no English ruler, except Cromwell, has tried to make it so). In this she had the inadvertent support of Pope Pius V, whose bull "Regnans in Excelsis", declaring Elizabeth a heretic and calling on her Catholic subjects to assassinate her or rise up against her, had the unintended consequence of driving into the Church of England all those who were in their hearts loyal to the Old Faith but who had no wish to see their Queen dead and their country racked by religious warfare.

The film explores the way in which Elizabeth created a ruling ideology for herself and her kingdom, an ideology of which the Elizabethan Religious Settlement was only one element. Apart from Mary, who only reigned for five years, no woman had previously succeeded in establishing herself as Queen Regnant of England. The advice from all her male counsellors was to marry as soon as possible, preferably to a powerful foreign prince, just as Mary had allied herself to Philip of Spain. Elizabeth, however, realised that such a marriage would be unpopular with her subjects as it could have made England subordinate to a foreign power (the Wyatt Rebellion was inspired more by fear of Spanish domination than by objections to Mary's Catholicism). The alternative of marriage to an English husband was rejected because Elizabeth did not want to surrender her power to any man, who would have become king in all but name. Historians have differed over whether Elizabeth was literally a virgin (the film takes the view that Robert Dudley was her lover physically as well as emotionally), but her solution was to reinvent herself as the Virgin Queen, married to her country rather than any earthly husband, and began a brilliant propaganda campaign to promote herself as such. (The only male European monarch who managed to create such a brilliant persona for himself was Louis XIV, "Le Roi Soleil").

Cate Blanchett gives a superb portrayal of Elizabeth, and was unlucky to be overlooked for the "Best Actress" Oscar which eventually went to Gwyneth Paltrow for "Shakespeare in Love". (An entertaining film, but hardly a great performance). The other performances which stood out were those of Geoffrey Rush as Elizabeth's devious, Machiavellian adviser Walsingham and Christopher Eccleston as the arrogant, treacherous Norfolk. I did not, however, like the portrayal of Elizabeth's sister Mary; she may have been cruel and callous (her nickname of "Bloody Mary" was well-deserved) but she was the daughter of Henry VIII and doubtless far more regal and dignified than the demented fishwife played here by Kathy Burke.

The film is not altogether historically accurate. Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (who crushed Wyatt's Rebellion and died of natural causes shortly afterwards) is conflated with his grandson, the 4th Duke, also named Thomas, who was executed by Elizabeth for treason. The Scottish Regent Mary of Guise was not poisoned by Elizabeth's agents. (She had many enemies, but none of her contemporaries regarded her death as anything but natural). Lord Burghley, a much younger man than the character played by Richard Attenborough, was not dismissed by Elizabeth early in her reign; he remained a trusted adviser until his death in 1598. Henri d'Anjou never visited England. Events are not shown in the sequence in which they occurred in history.

None of this, however, matters. The film was not conceived as a strictly accurate period drama but rather as a highly stylised historic pageant about the life of one of England's greatest monarchs. This stylisation is emphasised by the locations; mediaeval cathedrals such as Durham and York Minster stand in for Tudor palaces. The use of these buildings is hardly naturalistic, but it adds to the film's sense of grandeur and majesty. We hear music by Mozart and Elgar, neither of whom would be born until many years after Elizabeth's death. Cate Blanchett's costumes and appearance are modelled upon portraits of Elizabeth which were never meant to be realistic, but rather iconic propaganda images. As a historical textbook of Tudor England, the film is of little use, but it succeeds well in conveying Elizabeth's personality and her central importance in English history. 7/10
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Portrait of the Tyrant as a Young Woman (spoilers)
the red duchess2 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Like Sirk's Nazi-era 'Final Accord', 'Elizabeth' ends with a familiar image from totalitarian propagandist iconography - in this case, the Virgin Queen, divinely majestic and aloof from her subjects - having previously revealed the processes that have led to this image's construction. The gulf between serene image and brutal reality, between Elizabeth's powdered ascetisism and the cynical bloodletting, is all the more grotesque in its distasteful sublimation as religious metamorphosis - as Catholic England becomes Protestant, so Elizabeth replaces the Virgin Mary, like Madonna in 'Like a Virgin' re-chastening herself, in a paradoxically Catholic ritual of renunciation, mortification and abstinence - when she has her hair lopped off, like a young woman entering a nunnery, the fallen locks on her thighs suggest that it is more than hair she is losing. This sequence completes a dialectic (which very much concerned Elizabethan England) in the film between the human body and the body politic Elizabeth is a symbol of.

This is a historical epic you think Foucault might have approved of - indeed, 'Surveiller et Punir' wouldn't be a bad subtitle. There is a Foucauldian cynicism about the machinations of State here, where religious ideals are only so much murderous politicking (the scenes with the Pope and his envoy are frighteningly convincing), where a church is seen as a perfect setting for regicide.

Kapur impresses on us the monumentality of the world against which Elizabeth struggles, male power figured in forbidding stone buildings and huge, shadowy chambers, where human activity is obscured by the decor or veils, framed by crucifix crosses that have nothing to do with religious trauma. The film opens with Catholics burning Protestant 'heretics' in front of a mob; and ends with a 'Godfather'-like massacring of Protestant Elizabeth's Catholic enemies, whose threat is not religious, but one of power.

The most repeated visual motif in the film is an unmotivated long shot from deep above a building's rafters looking down on the dotted political players, a terrifying reminder of surveillance and omnipotence, an expression of power that doesn't depend on its human agents, that will always be there to circumscribe human endeavour. Is it the perenially observing Walsingham, Elizabeth's darkly charismatic advisor-cum-secret-police-henchman, given one of the great entrances in modern cinema? Or is it the God so godlessly invoked by these monsters?

Pedants have complained that 'Elizabeth' is historically inaccurate, as if cinema was a medium for plodding out facts. 'Elizabeth' is not a recreation of Elizabethan England and its modes of cultural expression - the film would be more formalised, ritualised, set as a masque rather than just featuring some. Kapur's modern techniques, his psychologising, his narrative pace, his restless camera, his (often over-egged) visual effects, all capture the instability of a period that tried to cover it up with pomp and ceremony.

This does not mean that the historical colour - the music, the pantomimes, the boat rides, the dances aren't in themselves delightful; it's just that they're imbued with narrative and character value (19th and 20th century values) rather than symbolic ones. This can be seen in the anachronistic use of Elgar and Mozart towards the end, the latter's Requiem especially, as Elizabeth becomes the Virgin Queen, in effect killing herself as a woman.

In the most bizarrely eclectic cast ever assembled in movies, mixing comedians, footballers, TV quiz-show hosts with 'proper' actors, Vincent Cassel is hilarious, and Geoffrey Rush is outstanding, proving after the false-start of 'Shine' that he is truly one of the most remarkable figures in film.
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