Most people have a charitable, vague recollection of Shekhar Kapur’s first queensploitation epic, 1998’s Elizabeth. In the Golden Age sequel, it is revealed that Kapur’s overblown storytelling, once a diverting alternative to staid costume dramas, now properly belongs in some florid branch of the Troy tradition. Camp if you want it to be, Elizabeth: The Golden Age might work on HBO, meted out week to week: the Queen whips her court bitches (her word) into shape, rages against zee dastardly Spaniards and their CGI Armada, flirts with Sir Walter Raleigh, outwits scheming exile Mary Queen of Scots and assorted traitors, sees right through people, is momentarily vulnerable.
Personally, I’d rather watch Blackadder, but The Golden Age packs some kind of laughs with its music-video bombast and back-after-a-commercial break score. Buried alive is Cate Blanchett, lately on everyone’s mind for impersonating Dylan in I’m Not There, and justly so. But here, majestically dropping her voice a half-octave, she can only hold her own in a treacherous screenplay, while Kapur keeps shoving his camera into ceiling corners for unmotivated roosting-pigeon’s-eye shots.
Official rogue Clive Owen as Raleigh doesn’t fare as well, stuck with some real groaners (“You eat and drink control,” he informs Liz). Samantha Morton, as Mary, is our disgruntled correspondent in exile, shoved on screen now and again, just like the villainous fundamentalist Catholics bent on world domination (Kapur’s inept “bid for relevance”). You could call it a comic-book approach to this sui generis Renaissance queen, but that actually sounds a little interesting. The costumes at least look sumptuous.