Friday, September 30, 2011

1998 - Elizabeth

Since I last wrote, two rather major (and hopefully, fruitful) career accomplishments have occurred. I joined Actor's Equity, the prestigious performer's union with jurisdiction over theatre. Plus, I have finally signed with my first American talent agent. I'm pretty sure this now means I'll be on Broadway next month. That's how it works, right?

The next on 1998's list of Best Picture nominees is...

Shekhar Kapur
Michael Hirst
Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Kathy Burke, John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant, Vincent Cassel
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Makeup

Queen Mary I (Burke) is reigning over a religiously divided England in the 16th century. She's Catholic and she's dying. Her advisers urge her to order the execution of her half-sister Elizabeth (Blanchett), the next in line to the throne, because of her Protestant sympathies. Fortunately, Mary saves her head and Princess Elizabeth becomes Queen Elizabeth I, much to the annoyance of the Duke of Norfolk (Eccleston), who remains staunchly opposed to her. Once on the throne, Elizabeth takes the ruthless Francis Walsingham (Rush) as her main adviser and the only person she truly trusts. But her troubles are far from over. She contends with assassination attempts and disrespectful counsellors. She carries on a secret love affair with Lord Robert Dudley (Fiennes) while rejecting the French Duc d'Anjou (Cassel). All the while, she is determined to unite England.

Elizabeth is a private look at a very public figure. While the production is a grand one, it maintains an intimacy as it explores the life of a powerful woman in a man's world. But it is, by no means, one of those quiet, upper-class, tea-and-scones types of period piece. In fact, all the elements of an intense drama are present - passion and lust, power struggles and corruption, violence and murder. And what use is a story about British royalty without a good beheading or two ... or three.

Undeniably, the film is very artistic. Not only are the sets and costumes extravagant and the cinematography exquisite, as you would expect for a film set in Elizabethan England, but also director Shekhar Kapur has composed each shot like a painting - interesting angles, candles in the foreground, half-hidden faces. It is genuinely a feast for the eyes.

Speaking of eyes, many of the cast engage in a great deal of steely-eyed acting, particularly Eccleston and James Frain. French footballer turned actor Eric Cantona seems somehow out of place. And there are an inordinate number of scenes in which Rush creepily sneaks into shot from behind a pillar and stares at something. However, in the role that introduced her to international audiences, Australian Cate Blanchett (pictured) is divine, carrying the film superbly and earning a well-deserved Best Actress nomination.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on joining Actors Equity and signing with an American Talent Agent. If you ever need another agent, I can recommend Broadway Danny Rose. Although he specializes in wine glass rim players and balloon artists, I’m sure he’d welcome an Aussie Improvisation specialist. Just be wary of his ex-wife Tina Vitale. She is connected:)

    My re-viewing of Elizabeth was the first since seeing it in the theater in 1998. I had issues then, and they remain. It certainly is a sumptuous, well-acted film, but I just didn’t care for the direction. Call it a pet peeve, since it may affect only me, but I’ve seem to have a problem with dramatic historic films that have what I feel are contemporary flourishes. Some seemed almost subliminal, but a few were overtly jarring, like the editing of Elizabeth’s rehearsing her meeting with her advisors. Perhaps there was too much emphasis on the frolicking with Dudley, and the silliness of Vincent Cassel’s Duke of Anjou for my liking.

    What I did like was the skulking Geoffrey Rush, in a fascinating if underwritten part. The Catholics took it on the chin. When they weren’t calling Elizabeth’s mother a whore (even from the Pope, with John Gielgud’s brief last feature film performance), they were sending her poison dresses. I found the contrast of the ravishingly beautiful Elizabeth with her half-sister, Queen Mary, who resembled Paul Giamatti in drag, amusing.

    All in all a good film with great production design, costuming and a star-making performance from Cate Blanchett, but one I enjoyed far less than another Elizabethan era film that we will be discussing shortly.