Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cate Blanchett's Disappointing Elizabeth I

Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Dir. Shekhar Kapur. Perf. Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. 2007. DVD. Universal Studios, 2008.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age answers the golden, age-old question of what would happen if you took a thrilling narrative, an immense budget, a number of top-notch actors and actresses, a lush soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography and tried to make it as bone-wearyingly boring as you possibly can.

We at Bardfilm try to be as positive as possible in our reviews. But this film is unforgivably dull.

That's particularly the case because it has so much working in its favor! How can the threat of the Spanish Armada possibly be made tedious? The history on which this is based is unbelievably interesting, but this film is dry as dust. And please note that I don't demand absolute historical accuracy in dramatic retellings of historical events—if I did, I wouldn't be able to enjoy any one of Shakespeare's ten history plays. But this film takes the exciting, non-stop drama of this part of Elizabeth's reign and slogs though it at a sloth's pace. It's ridiculously uninspiring.

The clip below shows one way they take the excitement of actual history and empty it of anything even mildly interesting. They take Elizabeth the First's great speech at Tilbury—it's the monarchical equivalent of Shakespeare's Henry V's speech before Agincourt—and re-write it so that it has none of the fire and splendor of the original:

video

What a mess. The soldiers aren't cheering at what she says; they're simply cheering because they think that she's done talking absolute drivel. Here's what Elizabeth the First actually said, on August 8, 1588, to the troops at Tilbury as they gathered to face the overwhelming force of the invading Spanish fleet:
My loving people . . . I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England, too. (Somerset 464)
For dramatic effect, that has been pared down slightly from the complete speech (which I print in full below)—and I have no doubt that, had Cate Blanchett been allowed to deliver those lines instead of the mindless schlock they gave her to say, the film would have benefited immeasurably.

Let Blanchett speak these lines—or just give her the St. Crispian's Day speech! Either would be inexpressibly superior to the lines they actually gave her.

Here, to provide the complete historical record, is the speech in its entirety:
My loving people. We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourself to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved my self, that under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of all my subjects, and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England, too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, in the word of a Prince, they shall be duly paid you. (Somerset 464)

Works Cited

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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