The latest effort from the Working Title production stable is a historical biopic which, like the recent Francis Bacon movie Love Is The Devil, concentrates on just a couple of years in its subject's life.
Indian director Kapur (Bandit Queen) plunges the viewer into the religious fanaticism and turmoil of Olde England, with the opening images of three Protestant heretics burning at the stake for their beliefs. Following this, we have little sense of what is happening in the nation as a whole, since the focus is trained on Elizabeth's court and the various machinations to remove the monarch from her throne.
The film-makers were apparently aiming for something closer in spirit to a conspiracy thriller than to traditional period drama. As a result, Elizabeth takes time to settle down. You're likely to spend the first half hour trying to work out who all the characters are and guessing which actors or celebs are buried beneath the medieval hairdos and costumes. And trying to keep track of the many international alliances is even trickier.
Yet Blanchett's central performance becomes increasingly compelling as she combines regal assurance with human vulnerability. Elizabeth's dilemma represents the drama's most significant theme: the conflict between private passion (in her case, for Fiennes' Lord Stanley) and national duty.
It's a very cosmopolitan cast, offering a mixture of English, Australian and French actors (including one-time football god Cantona). There's also convincing support from Rush as Elizabeth's trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham and from Eccleston as the ambitious Duke of Norfolk.
Elizabeth is dynamically shot and impressively designed throughout, building to a powerful resolution. And there's an appropriately mournful quality to the climactic blood-letting: the Queen herself is left painfully aware of the personal sacrifices she's had to make for the well-being of the realm.
This perceptive study of the conflict between private desires and public duty is powered by Blanchett's remarkable title performance. Although somewhat confused in its plotting, it's a refreshing change from the usual frock flick.
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