Liz’s reign rudely interrupted
NINE years ago, Cate Blanchett achieved international attention playing the title role in Elizabeth , a large- scale British production that charted the early years of the long ( 1558- 1603) reign of the so- called virgin queen. The film, the first non- Indian production by Shekhar Kapur, explored a kingdom under threat from Scotland, France and Spain and a young queen targeted by religious fanatics. Interestingly, it ended long before the glorious period of Elizabeth’s reign began.
Kapur followed it with an attempt at a different kind of British historical drama, yet another version of A. E . W. Mason’s The Four Feathers , which was a failure critically and commercially. Now he has returned to continue the story of Elizabeth I in Elizabeth: The Golden Age , starting in the year 1585, when the queen was 52, not that you’d notice this from Blanchett’s elegantly vibrant portrayal.
Her rival, Mary, queen of Scots ( Samantha Morton), is imprisoned in Edinburgh but is known to be plotting with Philip of Spain ( Jordi Molla) against the British throne. There are plenty of Catholic spies close to the court, some of them with friends in high places.
The queen’s principal adviser is still Francis Walsingham ( Geoffrey Rush, reprising his role from the earlier film), and her close companions include her favourite lady- in- waiting, Bess ( Abbie Cornish, rounding out a triumvirate of Australian actors in leading roles), but the dangers of assassination or invasion by Spain are mounting and casting a pall over this elegant, enclosed world.
Consequently, the arrival of the charming and chivalrous Walter Raleigh ( Clive Owen), recently returned from the New World with samples of potatoes and tobacco, is a breath of fresh air and the beginning of a one- sided romance complicated by the fact Raleigh is more smitten with the lubricious Bess than he is with the ageing monarch. At this point the film begins to resemble a remake of Michael Curtiz’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex ( 1939) in which Bette Davis played Elizabeth, Errol Flynn the dashing Earl of Essex, and Olivia de Havilland the lady in waiting he loves, despite the disapproval of her majesty.
And that, really, is the problem with this sequel: Elizabeth played as a serious, wellresearched drama, but The Golden Age is much more superficial and melodramatic.
Though entertaining, it seems more interested in its magnificent costumes, wigs and settings than it is in fleshing out a believable account of this crucial period of Elizabeth’s reign. The screenplay and Kapur’s direction are the main culprits. None of this in any way deters Blanchett from giving another fine, effortlessly regal and, in the end, quite touching performance.
Rush’s Walsingham provides a few notable lines (‘‘ Virginity is an asset that holds its value well’’), and Owen and Cornish ( in a careerboosting role) are, in their different ways, immensely decorative. But as a belated follow- up to the highly regarded original, The Golden Age is just a little bit tarnished.
* * * AS Spike Milligan was wont to remark: ‘‘ It’s all in the mind, you know’’, and the empire at the centre of David Lynch’s Inland Empire is the concoction of a mind with a very particular vision that is not easily shared with others.
Lynch has, until now, justifiably achieved cult status thanks to his command over the dreamlike images he conjures up in his best work. Blue Velvet , Twin Peaks and the tremendously mysterious but compelling Mulholland Drive are undeniably classics of their kind ( though the middle title was a television series).
But with Inland Empire , shot entirely on video, Lynch seems to have stumbled into a wonderland from which there is no logical exit. Worse, it’s a murky ( in every sense of the word) three- hour marathon that not only refuses to explain itself ( Lynch has always resisted explanations) but about which you feel you don’t really care at all.
At the beginning there is a plot, of sorts. Laura Dern plays Nikki, an actor who is starting work on a feature film directed by Kingsley ( Jeremy Irons). She plays a character called Sue and her co- star, Devon ( Justin Theroux), is playing Billy. The screenplay is based on a traditional story from Poland and an earlier film version was never completed because the original actors were murdered. In an unnerving early sequence, Nikki receives a warning from her vaguely threatening neighbour ( Grace Zabriskie), but she goes ahead with the film and apparently finds herself in an alternative world of the sort beloved by Lynch.
But whereas the mysteries of Mulholland Drive seemed to make some kind of sense — and even if they didn’t they were sufficiently gripping ( and well acted) to keep you involved — the same can’t be said here.
Never has the director made something as literally obscure as this. The camerawork is frequently so murky ( like a bad video) that it’s impossible to decipher what’s going on.
Julia Ormond, Nastassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton make fleeting appearances, and Naomi Watts provides the voice of one of the talking rabbits (!) in a film within the main film. It all ends with a cheerful song- and- dance routine, but only the most devoted Lynch fans will probably feel any sense of elation at this stage of the proceedings.
The director is certainly an original — he has been described as the cinematic equivalent of Jackson Pollock — but this time his fascination for the inexplicable has led him, after a few intriguing detours, into a very dead end. Abbie Cornish interview — The Weekend Australian Magazine
Bright light in the gloom: Cate Blanchett shines but the second Elizabeth struggles for clarity