Although the royal family is not of interest to me and costume dramas never really grasp me, I decided to ignore that and give Elizabeth a chance.
Elizabeth doesn't go at the angle of being a grand sweeping spectacle as it focuses more on Elizabeth I of England herself than the actual society that she existed in. This irritated me because prior to seeing Elizabeth I had never studied up on the woman and so the film's lack of context in terms of characters or history left me puzzled. Perhaps it is common sense for viewers who have studied history, perhaps the history behind the story of Elizabeth I of England is common sense. Either way, all I got from Elizabeth was a tale about a woman thrown into a position of power and how it changed her. Perhaps that is the most important part of the story and the emphasis on the fact that she was a woman in a complex situation did make the film interesting. I just felt that there could have been more to the story in terms of story context. Considering that the film was called Elizabeth I guess it is sensible to expect that the film would focus mainly around her, but I still felt like what the story told was limited. Elizabeth didn't feel too much to me like a historical tale as much as simply a story of a woman defying expectations and grasping power in a complex setting, and in that sense it does a good job of it which is more or less what I expected considering the fact that I find the lives of the Royal family to be boring. As a whole, Elizabeth did succeed at breathing life into the story of Elizabeth I of England even if it wasn't perfect.
The transition of Elizabeth is really interesting to behold. All the story focuses around is Elizabeth as she changes from the once gentle woman into one who grasps her power and changes as a result. It is interesting to behold not so much based on its historical meaning but as a historical reflection to gender roles in society. It emphasizes the fact that Elizabeth I of England was powerful woman who defied expectations and developed a tenacity for handling the harsh reality of her society. In terms of honouring the figure at the heart of the material, Elizabeth serves as a fairly strong biopic even if it characterizes its main character more as simply a powerful woman than someone who had much relevance to actually changing society in any other term but gender roles.
From a style perspective, this means that there isn't much focus on the production design or the scenery and rather on the actual events as they unfold. Still, things look relatively good. The lighting is rather grim and the cinematography follows a very conventional path which remains up close and personal with the cast members, but the rest of the style proves effective. The scenery for the film is nice because it does a good job asserting the time and place that the story occurs in. As the cinematography focuses mainly on the characters of the tale, it mainly works to capture the look of the costumes and makeup. They are considerably strong as they all have a sense of realism for the context of the story and give credibility to the characters. It almost makes the film feel somewhat Shakespearian although it never crosses the line into being a pretentious costume drama, so the stylish nature of Elizabeth adds some good qualities to it. Although the stylistic approach of Shekhar Kapur is somewhat flawed as it ignores some qualities while emphasizing others all while it takes a very small scaled approach to the material in terms of actual storytelling, Elizabeth does end up as a film with memorable imagery to it.
But the most memorable element of Elizabeth comes mainly from the leading performance from Cate Blanchett.
With Cate Blanchett having just recently won her second Academy Award for her leading performance in Blue Jasmine, it is welcome to see an Australian actress like her receiving such recognition. Elizabeth serves as the film which bolstered her career to the limelight in the first place. Taking on the high profile role of Elizabeth I of England, Cate Blanchett steps into her costume, kicks her heels up and blitzes the part. Cate Blanchett looks the part really well and grasps the power that the character maintains without any fear. Her emotions are subtle yet effective and are downplayed to make way for the manner she approaches the material in. Cate Blanchett is incredibly direct with the material in Elizabeth and commands the leading role with passionate dedication which is too memorable. Cate Blanchett focuses her energy on asserting Elizabeth's own sense of power and independence which comes off succesful because it makes for an intriguing view and gives her a lot of credibility as an actress. Cate Blanchett's lead performance in Elizabeth remains one of her finest to date.
Geoffrey Rush does not surprise me as being an excellent cast member in Elizabeth. Standing confident in his costume and delivering lines as if he were Laurence Olivier in a Shakespearian production, Geoffrey Rush makes a fine addition to the cast. He approaches the material in a very theatrical fashion. He steps into the universe of the film incredibly well and interacts with the surrounding cast members of the film fearlessly. He never fails to entertain me.
So although Elizabeth is small scaled in focus, somewhat historically ambiguous and slow, it benefits from being a strong tale of female empowerment and the performances of Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.
Man, there's hardly any way of doing anything new with these period political dramas, but really, this film stands a very real chance of changing up formula, and does just that in enough places to make the many conventional areas all the more glaring, challenging your investment, which is further opposed by aspects that try too hard to freshen and liven things up. Among the distinct aspects of this film is an overt attention to disturbing imagery and gore, for although there isn't a whole lot of action and immediate consequentiality in this talkative drama, when things get nasty, the imagery gets a little too nasty, taking you out of the intellectual integrity of the drama, just you are taken a bit too far out of the traditionalism of this period piece through excessive moments in a style that is frequently refreshing, creative and altogether solid, but doesn't always fit in the context of either period setting or substance. Some degree of overstylization even works its way into the storytelling, sometimes in the form of overdramatic heights in tonal flare, and surprisingly often in the form of an urgent atmosphere that establishes a busy-feeling pace at the expense of nuance and a sense of progression in an almost sweepingly layered plot. The film may be a little too layered, because even though a runtime of about two hours doesn't exactly make this a sprawling epic, there's a touch too much going on to keep up with, resulting in a convolution that challenges your attention, especially when backed by that pacing inconsistency that derives from an alternating between the aforementioned busy storytelling and the repetitious bloating of a narrative which is too talkative to carry particularly lively filler. Dramatic intrigue is pretty solid throughout the film, and when the plot thickens, tension joins it, but this period piece is largely lacking in action and dynamicity, and that would be so much easier to disregard if it wasn't for the convoluted excesses in the layering of an already conventional story, or for the flimsy pacing that Shekhar Kapur further retards the momentum of when he finally abandons all of that pesky overstylization and takes up an atmospheric sobriety which ranges from blanding to, well, boring. Indeed, among the conventions hit by this film is a certain dryness that limits entertainment value quite a bit, yet there are unique and lively elements to stress the conventions and dry spells, and to drive further inconsistency into the stylization, focus, progression and dramatic significance of this ambitious drama. The final product is both overblown and underdone, but more than anything, it is rewarding as a particularly edgy, stylish and effective take on promising, if familiar subject matter.
Whether it be this particular story or not, subject matter in this vein has been more accurate, accessible and lively time and again, at least in concept, but this remains a very intriguing story concept, which studies on Queen Elizabeth I's ascent to power, and struggle to maintain integrity amidst issues regarding romance, warfare, religion, and political affairs, both domestic and abroad, albeit in a convoluted and talkative manner, but nonetheless intriguingly. There is potential to bring to life with this layered, if somewhat overblown and undersized epic, and even Jonathan Lee's and Lucy Richardson's art direction help, by restoring Tudor England with lavish distinction that is made all the more stunning by highlights in Remi Adefarasin's somewhat flat, but often hauntingly spare cinematography. Much more aesthetically striking than Adefarasin's visual style is a score by David Hirschfelder, a seasoned pop and adult contemporary musician who proves to be revelatory as a classical composer here, delivering on thoughtfully atmospheric pieces, some grand pieces, and even some whimsically soaring pieces whose symphonics and choral vocals are enchanting in their marking heights, not simply in stellar musicality, but in the complimenting of the essence of this pseudo-epic drama. Michael Hirst's script is a more direct storytelling supplement that carries liveliness, for although much is excessive and limp about Hirst's writing of a talkative tale, sharp dialogue and moments of witty comic relief capture the tongue of the time without getting too stereotypical, while holding your attention amidst the well-rounded characterization that all but makes up for flimsy structuring through a more organic sense of layering. As for Shekhar Kapur's direction, it too is colorful, thoughtful and flawed, with overstylization, and either a bloating or a drying of scene structuring and atmospherics, leading to distancing moments that break up a frequency in sharp stylistic touches which include nifty imagery, snappy plays on Jill Bilcock's snappy editing, and a celebration of the aforementioned artistic attributes which compliment the range of this drama, whose overdramatic and slow spots are outweighed by a piercing thoughtfulness, and a biting sense of tension. Conventional though this film may be in a number of ways, there's plenty of edge to this film that wasn't especially common with period dramas of this sort, and if it isn't defined by Kapur's audacious performance, than it is defined by the dramatic depth of a cast that is strong across the board, with many a notable standout, the most notable of which being leading lady Cate Blanchett, who is always charismatic, but takes advantage of subtle nuances and intense emotional range to capture Queen Elizabeth I's gradual transformation from a brilliant, but vulnerable and controversial new queen into a figure of high power, command and independence. If nothing else about this film is engrossing, it's the experience of watching Elizabeth become a human, but admirable legend which is carried by Blanchett's revelatory breakout performance, which also carries the rest of the film, aided by a fresh and effective blend of sharp artistry and powerful substance that transcends shortcomings and secures the final product as rewarding.
In closing, there's something overwrought about certain disturbing imagery and certain areas of stylization, and something familiar and convoluted about a talky story whose unevenly paced and often atmospherically bland telling challenge an investment that is ultimately firmly secured by intriguing subject matter's being brought to life by immersive art direction, handsome cinematography, outstanding score work, sharp writing, stylish and often resonant direction, and a strong cast that Cate Blanchett stands out from, until Shekhar Kapur's "Elizabeth" is secured as a mostly rewardingly engrossing portrait on the rise of one of England's greatest queens.
3/5 - Good
There's just so much to like about this film that even if you're not a fan of costume dramas, you might find yourself having a great time with Elizabeth.