Elizabeth is a movie about one of the most famous female monarchs in history, Queen Elizabeth I of England (Cate Blanchett). Why is she famous, you ask? Well apart from being one of the biggest badasses in the history of the world, she managed to do it all almost single-handedly, despite the fact that she was a woman. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with women, of course, but instead to illustrate simply how difficult it has been throughout most of human history for women to be accepted as equals of men, much less rulers over them.
The Virgin Queen
What Elizabeth excels at is giving us a glimpse of just how damnably hard and stressful it was to be such a powerful and self-confident queen. Not only did Elizabeth have the hurdle of having to gain the respect of men who instinctively looked down on her, she also was not initially accepted as queen given the reign of Bloody Mary and the complicated fallout of Henry VIII's death (who was her father through Anne Boleyn). On top of that, in a time where Catholicism was still widely accepted, Elizabeth was a Protestant, which brought upon her a whole slew of religiously based troubles. And, as if that was not enough, other nations such as Spain and France looked upon her as a weak ruler, and sent both invasions, assassins, and diplomatic problems her way.
Part of what was excellently depicted in the film was one of Elizabeth's methods of dealing with these problems. She was popularly known as the Virgin Queen, and the reasons behind that are twofold. First, as we see in the movie, she was stalwart in her decision that she would let no man rule over her. Second, she utilized her status as a single and available woman/queen as a diplomatic weapon. When faced with trouble (or to delay future problems) from other nations, Elizabeth would invite over to England suitors and nobles from the problem nations so as to effectively convince them to back off until the suitor was inevitably refused. By seeming to promise the possibility of adding England's power to theirs through marriage, Elizabeth was able to effectively halt wars in their tracks. In the movie, we see a prime example of this in how she deals with the French invasion through Scotland. It is as entertaining as it is savvy, and impressive to watch.
But, even more than Elizabeth herself, I found my attention especially captured by one Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster (Geoffrey Rush). Though, as with much else in this movie, his role is magnified for dramatic potency, what I saw of Walsingham was enough to make me want to read a biography of him. He was just that awesome.
For, whether it be true or no, Walsingham is implicitly portrayed as a big part of the brains behind Elizabeth's rule. When a young Elizabeth new to rule struggles with the complications of ruling a bankrupt England, Walsingham is taken on as an advisor who is, almost single-handedly able to help her turn their fortunes around. When Elizabeth is threatened by a French warlord invading from the north, Walsingham pretends to defect in order to get close enough to assassinate the key player. When Elizabeth needs the votes of the English bishops in order to win a crucial vote, Walsingham delays a number of bishops who would have served as opposing votes, allowing the measure to pass. Every step of the way, Walsingham is there supporting Elizabeth, often without any enouragement needed. And, if even half of what was shown in the film is true, then Walsingham was one of the trickiest, smartest, diplomats/politicians/spymasters ever.
Elizabeth was a spectacular movie that was blessed by great actors in just about every role. The period looks well done and portrayed and, despite such attention devoted to detail, still manages to really make you feel for Elizabeth and empathize with her position. Hers was an incredibly difficult and lonely life, yet she managed it all with such aplomb and skill that you can't help but admire her and what she was able to do. Bringing a bankrupt, conflict-ridden England to an England powerful, stable, and great was no easy thing, particularly for a Protestant woman of uncertain succession in a time where each of these factors was controversial. Beside her every step of the way was the incredibly skilled Walsingham, portrayed both intensely and amusingly by Geoffrey Rush.
I would say that the only problematic parts of the movie have to do with my own personal biases. I thought that the movie was, at times, a bit too depressing. I also can't remember a single Catholic character portrayed positively, which seemed odd. Parts of history were taken with dramatic license, so not everything you see is true. And the romance between Elizabeth and Dudley was almost painful to watch; it was so cheesy and unbelievable. Well, I take that back, actually. I can understand Elizabeth's position with that romance; her life was so hard that something seeming out of a dream must have had great appeal. But Dudley is just romantic to the point of vomit-inducing and, also, everything about him just seems like bad news. So it isn't terribly surprising how that relationship ends. Also, it never happened historically. So, ha.
In the end, if you appreciate historical dramas, then this is one of the best. But if you are a crouching critic, hidden expert in Elizabethan-era history, then this movie will sometimes drive you up the wall.