Thursday, February 7, 2008

Elizabeth: Golden Age not worth a copper

Elizabeth 1: The Golden Age isn’t one of those movies that isn’t worth the money to see it in the theatre – it isn’t worth the money to see it on video.
The director Shekhar Kapur has the strangest sort of hard-on for the former British Empire, which seems a bit strange in someone from India – after all it’s still in living memory that they drove the murdering limey bastards off the subcontinent.
But his first Elizabeth film was a lot of fun and an insightful look into the choice a woman of power would have had to make between happiness and power. It resonated with real tragedy, though it was sometimes excruciatingly elite in its perspective, which drained it of the potential for greater humanity.
This effort lacked anything of interest, other than how the studios could spend $60 million to produce such a piece of crap. The story structure is an absolute mess, jumping around and doing nothing to develop coherent characters or clear emotional throughlines that would make us care for any of the characters. Kapur, who penned this disaster, seemed to be unable to decide on what was important and so gave us little hors d’oeuvres of several possible, thematically unrelated stories, leaving us distinctly unsatisfied.
As usual in Hollywood, where the story is a mess, they try to cover it up with music. And the more empty the scene of emotional or story content, the louder becomes the music to try and smash us into an emotional response. But while obnoxiously unsubtle music can sometimes work, for instance with Titanic, where the story has real flow and charm, in Elizabeth it just adds to the wince factor.
And the camera work is frankly bizarre. The angles, movements and lighting often seem to be for the purpose of achieving an effect that bears no relation to the dramatic content of the scene being played. For instance the frequent use of God shots – overheads from a distance – that are cut in half by pillars and archways. It just made me want to crank my neck to get a better look.
Then there is the scene where Sir Walter Raleigh, played with utter boredom by Clive Owen, seduces Elizabeth’s handmaid Bess. Here the camera rests at a low angle from a medium distance. Both Raleigh and Bess are in near darkness carrying on a conversation that doesn’t require a particularly large amount of discretion. And the light that spills into the scene cuts Raleigh’s head right in half. It adds nothing to the meaning and just distracts.
The political/historical aspects are fairly incomprehensible in their own rights. Their only purpose, and ultimately the only purpose for the movie, is to set up an allegory for the War on Terror. The obscurantist, dogmatic and brutal Spaniards, looking very Middle Eastern, are out to suppress the free British. Elizabeth says to her troops, dressed bizarrely like a valkyrie on a white horse, that they are fighting for liberty, etc. etc. I suppose she is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty but Britain was hardly an enlightened democracy under her reign. Remember, she was born into her position, there were public floggings, hangings, beheadings and religious persecution.
The only thing useful I took from this film was the realization that whenever Kapur takes the opportunity to write about how great the British Empire was, his films are complete shit.
Four Feathers, about the brave and noble British, fighting against the obscurantist, dogmatic and brutal Mehdi rebellion in the Sudan at the end of the 19th Century, was another piece of dramatic garbage. It was an attack on anyone who would be so outrageous as to refuse to fight for the cause of empire.
Come to think of it, Bandit Queen was a pretty terrible rendition of a very moving, very true story from India about a low caste woman who becomes a Robin Hood type hero. He had very little sympathy for the lead character in a film that was supposed to be about her.
Ok, so I’ve changed my mind – the only thing of Kapur’s that was any good (that I’ve seen), was Elizabeth I. Why did I rent this movie again?
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