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This film tells the story of the early days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (although, it should be noted that there are a number of historical inaccuracies). Starting from when Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is imprisoned by her older sister Mary, Queen of England, the film depicts Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne upon Mary’s death.  When she is made Queen, Elizabeth’s reign is shaky with a lot of opposition to her Protestant religion, and there are traitors in her midst. Her advisor William Cecil urges her to marry and have a child, in order to secure her position as Queen, and there are suitors from the French and Spanish aristocracies (indeed, the King of Spain offers his hand to Elizabeth).  However, she continues an affair with her childhood sweetheart Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), which she later breaks off when she discovers that he is already married (in the true version of events, Elizabeth was well aware that Robert was married, and she actually attended his wedding; neither did he betray her in real life, as he did in the movie by committing treason against her.  He remained a loyal servant throughout his life).  Eventually she turns down all offers of marriage and declares herself married only to England.  She is shown cutting off all her hair and adopting the persona of the Virgin Queen (in real life, she did not cut her hair, although she did wear a wig later in life, due to her hair thinning after a bout of smallpox).

Despite the historical inaccuracies – many of which are clearly in place because they make the film more watchable and dramatic than the true version of events – this is a very compelling film and I found that I did not want to stop watching at all.

Cate Blanchett is of course excellent as Queen Elizabeth, initially showing the sense of fun which the queen had as a young girl.  However, disappointments and betrayals by those she trusts cause her to lose her somewhat carefree nature and harden her heart.  This is all shown very well, as is Elizabeth’s determination and inner strength, at a time when women were not considered to be worthy of having an opinion.  Vincent Cassel is also worthy of note as Henry III of France, one of the potential suitors.  He provides some moments of comic relief throughout the film, as he is depicted as fun loving, flamboyant and rather outrageous.  Joseph Fiennes is fine as Robert Dudley, but the best supporting actor is surely Christopher Eccleston, as the queen’s traitorous cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, who considers Elizabeth to be a heretic.  There were some unusual casting choices however; I was most surprised to see Eric Cantona playing a French Ambassador.  Maybe because he is such a well known face, I found him hard to believe in in this role.  I also believe that Kathy Burke (who is a superb actress) was miscast as Queen Mary.  Again however, this may be because people are so used to seeing her in completely different roles.

Overall however, this was a fascinating and engrossing film, and I look forward to watching the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Years, very soon.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Writer: Michael Hirst

Main cast: Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston

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