Reign Out

SpainLaurence OlivierGeoffrey RushCate BlanchettChicago TribuneJohn GielgudAbbie Cornish

Sometimes a performer must stoop to conquer her own historical epic. Laurence Olivier did so in that great 20th Century saga "The Betsy." And Cate Blanchett acts the 16th Century living Protestant daylights out of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

It is a silly film about serious matters, challenged by a multiple-personality disorder--multiple multiple-personality disorders, in fact--but more or less saved from pure nonsense by Blanchett. This fabulous Australian-born actress is a positive Brit when it comes to combining classical technique and zesty interpretive relish. Whether acting the flirt, the spurned lover or the fearsome warrior maiden, she's the only thing that cuts through this sequel's visual bombast and its insistence on more action, more stuff, more storms at sea, more romantic turmoil on terra firma.

A big hit in 1998, director Shekhar Kapur's first "Elizabeth" was no blushing flower. This time, though, the passions and intrigues are purple beyond purple, halfway to Bollywood in its mixture of eye-rolling, teeth-gnashing Catholics, and a thousand nautical miles beyond the average seafaring adventure in its climax. The film cannot wait to unfurl the sails on its computer-generated ships and gleeful historical reinventions, led by Sir Walter Raleigh's single-handed crushing of the Spanish Armada. Did you know he did it alone? He does here.

Clive Owen cuts an absurdly dashing figure as Raleigh, and the impudent commoner flirts prettily with Blanchett, tempting her with tales of the New World and the glorious solitude of the sea. Meantime he's getting down to it with lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). Even when screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst have Raleigh confessing his fears on the eve of battle, nothing in Owen's face or delivery backs that up. In this role Owen knows no fear. In fact he knows no blinking.

The first film dealt with the conscious manufacture of a queen, initially reluctant and out of her depth and then decidedly not. As "The Golden Age" begins, Blanchett's Elizabeth has hit her stride. She and her crafty advisor Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush, keeping his natural ebullience in check, for the paycheck) must rely on their shrewdest political instincts to deal with Spain's King Philip. He is played, or rather sniveled, by Jordi Molla, who reminds his people early on that "England is enslaved to the devil!" It's not quite up to the snivel level of John Gielgud's Pope in the first "Elizabeth," but you take your two-dimensional power-mad icons where you can find them.

You take your fine actors the same way. "The Golden Age" is one-third "Captain Blood," one-third Shakespeare and one-third graphic novel. By the time Blanchett launches into a rousing speech to the troops straight out of "Henry V," you simply have to overlook all the play-acting going on around her and concentrate on the real play-acting at the center.

Get showtimes and movie details for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

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