Among Elizabeths on the silver screen, Blanchette's would be uneasy the head that wears the crown. Many luminaries have played the role. Sarah Bernhardt in a much-praised 1911 silent film. Bette Davis, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), hauls off and smacks Errol Flynn hard across the face for realsies (they are said to have despised each other) in one scene. No such fireworks here.
Judi Dench, who played Elizabeth in Shakespeare In Love (1998), and Blanchette were nominated for Best Actress in the same year for the same role in different films. Dench won, despite being onscreen for all of eight minutes.
Like Kapur's 1998 film, this one is a lavishly costumed soap opera (the plumed wigs are eye-popping) filled with intrigue and assassins and spies and people glaring -- wolvish, wethinks, and overlong -- at Her Majesty.
Much is confusing. Who's spying on whom? Who the hell are the assassins and why are they dyeing so much cloth?
Will the band of hot courtiers surrounding the emissary from Spain (the whole clot of them in elegant black) finally draw their rapiers at some slur from the English dogs? Gangs of courtiers, moving with shoulder-rolling machismo, bring to mind the Renaissance bones of the Sharks and the Jets.
The carved stonework from actual castles dazzles and draws the eye -- sometimes away from the actors. (Bad for the film, but an excellent featurette showcases the sets.)
And then there is Geoffrey Rush. He reprises the role of the queen's Dick Cheney-ish adviser, Sir Francis Walsingham... but... but... given his last four years as Cap'n Barbossa I was on the edge of my seat waiting for him to rip off a few mighty "Ha-harrrrs!" in scenes with Owen, who quite dashingly plays the pirate Sir Walter Raleigh. (Rated R)