Liz’s reign rudely in­ter­rupted

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

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

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