Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff: we’ve not exactly been short of Virgin Queens since Cate Blanchett first played Elizabeth I nine years ago. Maybe that’s why the Australian actress’ return to her career-making, Oscar-nominated role doesn’t seem quite the event Working Title would like it to be, even with Geoffrey Rush reprising his performance as spymaster Walsingham and India’s Shekhar Kapur back behind the camera.
Still, there’s no denying this handsome period pageant ticks all the right boxes, the Four Feathers director building a suitably imposing epic around his radiant leading lady who, off the back of this and Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There, is sure to enter the awards season as a leading contender.
Paying little heed to historical accuracy, The Golden Age sees Blanchett’s Queen Bess juggling threats from without – a mad king of Spain (Jordi Molla) determined to restore England to Catholicism – with dangers from within – an assassination plot involving the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). Looking pretty good for her 52 years, this Elizabeth also has her head turned by dashing explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen doing his best Errol Flynn), a girlish pash she attempts to quell by fixing him up with a lady-in-waiting (fellow Aussie Abbie Cornish, grappling rather less successfully with the requisite English accent) while she waits for the Spanish Armada to sail up the Thames.
A heady concoction, then, with contemporary parallels for those who need them (liberal democracy versus religious fundamentalism, confessions extracted under duress) and a swashbuckling climactic sea-battle straight out of Pirates Of The Caribbean. Blanchett is peerless throughout, perfectly combining public poise with private doubt, while an underutilised Morton ensures every moment of her cameo counts. Okay, so Kapur isn’t the most subtle of directors, his flashy tactics and overblown theatrics proving a distraction to Cate’s star turn, but costume drama lovers will be having too much fun to notice.