Elizabeth (1998)


Director: Shekhar Kapoor. Polygram/Working Title/Channel 4 Films


Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Alison Owen. Writer: Michael Hirst. Camera: Remi Adefarasin. Music: David Hirschfelder. Sets: John Myhre.

Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Fanny Ardant, Eric Cantona, Vincent Cassel, Kathy Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Emily Mortimer, John Gielgud, James Frain, Jamie Foreman, Kelly Macdonald, Daniel Craig, Lily Allen.


A period drama that tells the story of the early years of Elizabeth I’s (Blanchett) reign, from her days as a Protestant teenager under house arrest by her unbalanced half-sister Queen Mary (Burke) to uneasily taking the throne, surviving numerous assasination attempts and negotiating the tricky matter of marriage.


Bandit Queen director Kapoor being chosen  as the director of this Elizabeth I biopic that giddily subverts (and even inverts) the woman and the times she lived in, probably raised as many historian’s eyebrows as did writer Hirst’s unique, fact-eschewing take on one of Britain’s most famous Queens.

Casting Blanchett who, at this time, was not a major international movie star (though this would help change that) was the first stroke of genius in a film littered with some rather odd-ball casting choices. As many of us will know, Elizabeth Tudor was a complex, contradictory woman. Intelligent, but prone to great misjudgements. A virgin, yet outrageously flirtatious (and then some in this controversially gamey characterisation). Deep and intellectual yet also superficial. Capricious and swift, yet she would also prevaricate and dither. Blanchett, despite not being properly tried out in motion pictures, is able to capture all of this but never once makes Elizabeth seem like a text book perfect, clipped accent Glenda Jackson going for a BAFTA turn; Elizabeth is a fallible human, she is funny and has just that right amount of royal pizzazz. Elizabeth is a girl you might actually want to have a drink with.

She heads up a cast list that includes footballer Cantona as a French Ambassador, Burke as mad, Bloody (Queen) Mary, Cassel as the cross-dressing, bisexual Duke d’Anjou and, right down the cast list, singer Allen as a young Lady-in-Waiting (her mother was the clever casting director).

Attenborough has a cuddly charm as Elizabeth’s most trusted adviser Lord Burleigh. Fiennes makes a handsome Lord Dudley for Elizabeth to tinker with in scenes that show her status as a national Virgin should have been checked out under the medieval Trade Descriptions Act.

The period production of course looks fantastic but Kapoor is careful not to let it swamp her visual style too much. In a precursor to TV’s The Tudors (incidentally, also written by Hirst), she keeps the action and her actors moving, shedding the usual period drama format of static actors frozen to the spot orating and pontificating for effect. This brisk approach adds to the freshness of the drama.


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