Elizabeth: The movie that introduced Cate Blanchett to the world is coming to Neon

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Elizabeth (R16, 118mins) Directed by Shekhar Kapur ****½

Pretty much the only time I’ve encountered a row between Protestants and Catholics (apart from growing up watching the growing tensions in Northern Ireland on the news) is on the football pitch.

Having been an occasional supporter of Glasgow Rangers from a young age, I was amazed to find out how much their supporters and those of their city rivals Celtic hated each other due to the club’s varying religious affiliations.

However, with all due respect to this long-standing rivalry, it is a pale shadow of the setback that was unfolding in the mid-16th century. It is the setting for Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 drama centered on the eponymous English queen.

PROVIDED

Elizabeth made Cate Blanchett an international star.

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The Protestant daughter of the infamous Henry VIII (known not only for his six wives, but also for having changed his religion when it suited him) and his second wife Anne Boleyn, the young royal (Cate Blanchett, in full career) goes up to the highest position after the death of his very Catholic half-sister, Mary (Kathy Burke).

However, there are unfortunates in his ascendancy. The Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) leads a pope-sanctioned plot to overthrow her, while Elizabeth’s advisers, including Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), advocate that only marriage to a royal from Spain or France – and a resulting heir – will secure his future.

But Elizabeth apparently only has eyes for Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), a nobleman she knows. It’s an attachment that could be fatal to both of them.

Cate Blanchett won a Bafta and a Golden Globe for her role as the eponymous Elizabeth.

Provided

Cate Blanchett won a Bafta and a Golden Globe for her role as the eponymous Elizabeth.

Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur may have seemed an unusual choice at the time to direct such a very English period piece, but considering that his previous outing had been Bandit Queen (about the outlaw- law-turned-politician Phoolan Devi), then the logic becomes much clearer. Both films focus on strong, real women who rose above their detractors to fulfill their destiny.

Here, Kapur presents the Elizabethan court without the usual (and expected) opulence and glamor, but rather with an all-pervading sense of betrayal, deceit – and foreboding.

Where Blanchett, who before that had made a name for herself on the Australian stage, rather than any screen, really deserves her accolades (of which there have been many, including a Bafta and a Golden Globe) , it was in the subtle transformation of the young queen into the hardened monarch she became later in life. Its initial romantic nature is slowly replaced by the cool calculation necessary to rule, as the film progresses.

A dark, dark tale of betrayal and a seemingly unquenchable lust for power, even nearly 25 years later, Elizabeth is still one of the purest and most polished British dramas ever to hit celluloid.

Provided

A dark, dark tale of betrayal and a seemingly unquenchable lust for power, even nearly 25 years later, Elizabeth is still one of the purest and most polished British dramas ever to hit celluloid.

But although Fiennes is showing the form that perhaps quite obviously led to his next role in Shakespeare in Love, it’s Blanchett’s fellow Aussie – Geoffrey Rush – who is the real scene-stealer. Playing Elizabeth’s bodyguard and advisor, Francis Walsingham, he’s an ambiguous anti-hero who moves beautifully among the shadows to ensure his queen continues to rule. It’s a brilliantly understated performance, in which the looks and the silence speak volumes.

Among a truly star-studded ensemble, keep an eye out for kung fu kicker and enigmatic soccer genius Eric Cantona as France’s ambassador (although he sadly doesn’t get the chance to deliver an impassioned speech on the aquatic birds).

A dark, dark tale of betrayal and a seemingly unquenchable lust for power, even nearly 25 years later, Elizabeth is still one of the purest and most polished British dramas ever to hit celluloid.

Elizabeth is now available to stream on Neon.

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