Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur’s costume drama sequel to Elizabeth, is indeed more about fashion statements than political statements, during that tumultuous and lavish historical period of European colonialism. As such, that ‘Golden Age’ may refer more to prima donna Liz’s glowing tiara than the plundering of the New World that made her pompous strut down that royal runway possible in the first place.
This middle aged, now older and colder blooded along with blue blooded Virgin Queen (a seemingly ageless Cate Blanchett) is the centerpiece of this follow-up to Shekhar Kapur’s surprise smash hit nearly a decade ago. But there’s less fluid wit and a restrained stiffness, and that’s not just a matter of all those metal corsets and bodices.
Kapar holds out the temptation for this too busy for romance workaholic British ruler, a potential fetching palace boy toy, famed ocean navigating gallant world explorer Walter Raleigh (never disappointing ladies man, Clive Owen). His knack for showing up to likewise navigate street puddles at just the right moment, to assist Elizabeth to pass over to dry land on the other side of the curb, conquers her calculating heart. Though a sense of duty to conquering the world on behalf of the emerging British Empire that goes with the territory – not to mention scheduled beheadings and taking down the competing Spanish Armada in what looks like a 16th century supermodel photo shoot, wind fans and all – effectively stifles her more carnal urges.
The big question that arises when it comes to this sequel is that with such a flawless gem as the 1998 Elizabeth, can a follow-up match the excellence of the original. Kapur does weave his magical web of visual splendor drenched in period atmosphere. But all the dramatically bracing, deliciously dark palace intrigue is pushed to the sidelines this time around.
Even the anticipation of some steamy chivalry courtesy of Clive’s explorer Raleigh gets nipped in the bud and fizzles before it can light a fire under Liz and lead him to discover his way into her tormented but jealous heart, after he falls for one of her flirty ladies in waiting Bess (Abbie Cornish). Also, a disappointment in this dazzling yet hollow pageantry is the conspicuous absence of any feel for the tremendous historical impact of the times, whose turn of events seem more influenced in the film by personal emotions than political forces. A movie with smart fashion sense, but all dressed up and nowhere to go.