Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Elizabeth: The Golden Age -- Protecting the People
In 1999 Cate Blanchett came to the fore in her role of Elizabeth, commanding the screen as this powerful 16th century English queen in the film of the same name. She won rave reviews and an Oscar nomination, although the movie only grossed $82M. 2007 saw her reprise her role in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a continuation of sorts, portraying the later stages of her reign. Where the first film was interesting, this sequel is merely insipid.
The heart of Elizabeth 2 is the story of the virgin's queen developing friendship and love with Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). This is set against the backdrop of the impending war with the Spanish empire ruled by King Philip. With half of England still catholic, and the pope dominating most of Europe, England stood alone as a nation divided religiously. Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), is imprisoned, under "house arrest," as she was at the end of the first movie, but is the figurehead around which catholic hopes gather.
With court intrigue, suitors trying to win her hand, growing romance and whispers of passion, a little gory torture and even battle-scenes on the water, this sounds like a mini-epic. In actuality it is no more than eye-candy. For sure, Elizabeth 2 looks beautiful. With sweeping dresses and colorful wigs, well made sets that enclose in rectangular frames and circular rooms that show her aspiring freedom, this is a fantastic period piece with a loud score to rule the emotions. But it is all window dressing. Though it won the 2008 Oscar for costume design, probably deservedly so, the story fails to engage. It is dull and uninspiring. The actors work hard, but the script does not give them much to work with. The dialog is trite, even stilted, and most of the characters, apart from Raleigh, not developed. Indeed, Sir Francis Drake, the real hero of the naval battle against the fearsome Spanish Armada, is not even introduced properly here.
But this is Blanchett's movie again, and she looks good as the queen. She carries herself in a regal manner, as she did before, and rightfully got another Oscar nom. She conveys the power and anger of a ruler. In her best scene, when the Spanish ambassador to her court tells her there is a wind (war) coming, she rises to her full royal stature and declares: "I, too, can command the wind, sir! I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare when you dare try me!" And we feel pity for the Spaniards for calling down her wrath upon them.
She communicates the loneliness of a monarch. As ruler, she is powerful but is still caged by her position. As a woman she cannot find love, though her advisors, such as Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) bring potential suitor after potential suitor into her presence.
When explorer and commoner Raleigh brings her potatoes and tobacco from the new world (and to think we now get chips from one and cancer from the other), he is a breath of fresh air, and she comes to love him, though she cannot have him. When her lady-in-waiting falls for him, Elizabeth shows the jealousy even a queen must feel.
More than anything, though, Elizabeth shows the love and protection a sovereign ruler has to feel for his or her subjects. When advised to kill or imprison the catholics in her realm, she responds, "If my people break the law, they shall be punished. Until that day, they shall be protected. . . . Fear creates fear. I am not ignorant of the dangers, sir. But I will not punish my people for their beliefs. Only for their deeds. I am assured that the people of England love their Queen. My constant endeavor is to earn that love." In saying this, and in her actions to support this, she is a picture (albeit imperfect) of the supreme King Jesus. Jesus does not punish people for their beliefs, but for their actions. He does protect those in His kingdom, though that does not mean their lives are untouched by suffering. Jesus wants His people, all people actually, to love Him. But He does not need to earn that love; rather He is worthy of that love.
Further Elizabeth's statement about fear is right on the money. John says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). Where fear resides, love is missing. God is love, and His love is perfect. Our sovereign, God, like Elizabeth, wants to replace fear and He does so by pouring his love and his Spirit into us. As we choose to follow Jesus as King, we can experience this enormous transformation. Then, in turn, we show our love and devotion to this great King, who is most worthy of our love and worship.
In a pointed biblical allusion, during the battle of the Spanish Armada, Philip of Spain looks at a candle and says, "Elizabeth is darkness. I am light." And in Hollywood fashion, the candle goes out, symbolically showing the error of this statement. Philip and the papist empire are darkness, Elizabeth is light. In reality, the true King is light (1 John 1:5). Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). As protector, as lover, as light-giver, as sin-forgiver, we submit ourselves as loyal subjects to this precious King Jesus!
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 2:00 PM