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This is the England of 1554, but the veneer of traditional English composure and dignity has been stripped away. The British populace is in turmoil. Fearing a challenge to her throne, Queen Mary I imprisons her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth Tudor (The daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn), in the Tower of London. But, in 1558, when "Bloody Mary" dies, Elizabeth is swept onto the throne and, at the age of 25, is crowned Queen of England. In order to survive, let alone to rule, Elizabeth must suss out hidden agendas: the Court is rife with intrigue; military strategists are risking the lives of young Englishmen; religious leaders at home and abroad place no faith in her; and the man she loves might not be worthy of her trust. The male-dominated ruling class would appear to have the advantage, but intelligent Elizabeth will deploy whatever means necessary to keep, or take what's rightfully hers.
For more about Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Blu-ray release, see Elizabeth Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Fanny Ardant
Director: Shekhar Kapur
» See full cast & crew
Elizabeth Blu-ray Review
Elizabeth R comes alive with a magnficent portrayal by Cate Blanchett.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 1, 2010
This probably won't be too hard to believe, but I have been a film geek from an early age. Probably the first demonstrable evidence of this was when the Academy Award nominations were announced in early 1970. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did not print a complete list of nominees (such all inclusive entertainment reporting was the exception rather than the rule back in those "Dark Ages"), but instead listed a roster of how many films each studio had nominated and what the total number of studio nominations were. I was captured by one salient statistic that spring morning: Universal had two films nominated and 13 nominations total. In that morning's paper, the first Oscar ads appeared on the movie page, and so I saw instantly that some Universal historical epic with Richard Burton called Anne of the Thousand Days had received 10 nominations. That meant one of my first geek-fest experiences as a child, Universal's Sweet Charity, had only received three relatively minor technical nods, something that sent me into something of an emotional tailspin (if you're not laughing by now, you probably never will be, at least as far as my geekdom goes). The overwhelming number of nominations for Anne also however lured me to see a film I probably would never have otherwise at that early age, which I grudgingly forgave for stealing the Universal Oscar limelight from Bob Fosse and Shirley MacLaine.
Thus was I introduced to the machinations of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne of Boleyn, who gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, who would go on to become one of the most iconic rulers in the history of the world, let alone Britain. Elizabeth makes but a cameo of sorts in Anne of the Thousand Days,, a cute baby-walked coda to the actual film played out against Genevieve Bujold's vicious voiceover from beyond the grave, but her presence provided a dramatic subtext to the whole second half of the picture, as Henry's desperate attempts to conceive a son left Elizabeth in a sort of netherworld limbo, a second class citizen due to her gender despite first class qualifications in temperament and intellect to be England's Queen.
Elizabeth has been the stuff of many legendary film and television portrayals, from the earliest days of the silents with such celebrated actors as Sarah Bernhardt essaying the role, to everyone from Flora Robson (twice, actually, in Fire Over England and The Sea Hawk) to Bette Davis (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) to more contemporary interpretations by the likes of Glenda Jackson, who lit up the small screen in the British miniseries Elizabeth R before tackling the same role in Mary, Queen of Scots, incidentally directed by Anne of the Thousand Days' director, Charles Jarrott. As recently as 1998, the role brought home Oscar gold for Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. And so the question lingers: did we really need another film version of Elizabeth Regina? The answer may be debatable, considering the wealth of previous material captured on celluloid and videotape, but the fact remains that Shekhar Kapur's magnificent 1998 depiction of the Queen's early life is sumptuously produced and intelligently written (if not always completely historically accurate), and features an absolutely pitch perfect performance by Cate Blanchett in the title role. And just to bring this all back full circle, it happens to be a Universal release.
It's a little disconcerting to realize how relatively unknown Blanchett still was when she took on the role of Elizabeth Regina. Though she had attracted attention, particularly in her native Australia, for roles in such lauded films as Oscar and Lucinda, it wasn't until 1998's Elizabeth that the actress burst upon the worldwide stage to pretty much (ahem) Universal acclaim. Blanchett is simply a force of nature in both this film and its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (which I'll also be reviewing). In fact Blanchett is the only actress to be nominated for the same role in both a film and its sequel in the entire history of the Academy Awards. Her Elizabeth in this film requires perhaps a bit more range than in the subsequent movie, as the character must traverse a path from relatively innocent outsider to the absolute center of power. Add in Elizabeth's famously troubled and stormy romantic life (here dealt with in a largely fictionalized subplot involving Joseph Fiennes as Dudley, her supposed "true love"), and a remarkably diverse character emerges, with Blanchett able to exhibit both the ruthlessness and the vulnerability that the real Elizabeth probably displayed.
The Catholic League is on record decrying Elizabeth and its sequel for both films' supposed anti-Catholic stance, and, while perhaps exaggerated by the League, how really could it be otherwise, given the convoluted religious history of the rise of Anglicanism? In fact, it's a rather interesting intellectual exercise to try to pin down an Anglican or Episcopalian about the origins of their faith. As someone who attended an Episcopalian parochial school for many years as a child, and later served as Music Director for a large Episcopalian church for many years, I can tell you from personal experience that the anti-Papist hoops many believers of these linked faiths jump through are at times very reminiscent of American Southerners' insistence that "states' rights" were the basis for the Civil War.
The elephant in the room with regard to that argument is of course slavery, just as the religious pachyderm confronting both Anglicans and Episcopalians is Henry VIII's obsessive compulsive attempts to father a male heir, leading to his break with Catherine of Aragon and the Catholic Church. The whole dialectic between Catholicism and Protestantism has defined the "United" Kingdom and its sibling countries in often unseemly ways, ways which continue to haunt its northern climes with "the troubles" in Ireland. What can't be denied is that director Kapur doesn't shirk from investing his Catholic characters with almost uniformly sinister intent. If the occasional Catholic-leaning courtiers are shown to be semi-loyal subjects to the Queen, at least when they're caught and about to be executed, those tendencies are offset by the murderous rampages of the evil Jesuit priest John Ballard (Daniel Craig), who bashes and smashes his way to a close encounter with the Queen. Add in an ugly death by poisoned dress (completely fictional), and the Catholics certainly do not come off as men (and women) of God.
It's somewhat ironic that a director of Indian descent would tackle this eminently British subject. Of course the Indians have their own long and often unseemly history with the English, but Kapur is remarkably objective in his approach, bolstered by Michael Hirst's literate screenplay. The entire production is awash in gorgeous sets and costumes, and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin's work is nothing short of ravishing. Elizabeth may in fact stretch the truth, combining events and even characters to establish a more coherent dramatic through-line, but it is one of the most viscerally exciting historical dramas to come down the pike in the last decade-plus of film. I'm on record as disparaging the fictionalizing that often accompanies film versions of real people's lives, but Elizabeth manages to walk a fine line between "intentional" accuracy and the actual historical record. If it sometimes (or even often) errs on the side of intent and not what actually happened, it nonetheless recreates an era, and one of that era's titanic figures, in an unforgettable manner.
Elizabeth Blu-ray, Video Quality
Elizabeth arrives on Blu-ray from Universal with a largely stupendous VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (which will probably display as 1.78:1 on your system). This is one of the sharpest, most colorful Blu's I've seen in a long time, and puts Universal's Out of Africa release of a couple of weeks ago to shame. Colors are incredibly richly saturated here, with a breathtaking array of reds, blues, greens and purples. Detail is simply amazing, with gorgeous depth of field, perhaps more noticeable than usual due to Kapur and Adefarasin's impressive use of focus throughout the film. Flesh tones can't exactly be called "natural," due to the use of makeup on most characters, but the color spectrum here looks perfectly filmic and true to the original theatrical presentation. Grain is evident, but never overwhelming and contrast is exceptionally well balanced, even when white "blow out" is utilized several times throughout the film. The only thing keeping this from a 5-star rating are a couple of very minor artifacting issues, mostly on some of the heavily patterned and brocaded costumes. You'll see just a hint of aliasing and moire at times, but it's never too horrible. Otherwise, this is a stellar video presentation.
Elizabeth Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's not a lot of bombast to Elizabeth's DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, but what's here is very nicely directional and extremely clear. The soundfield here can be rather subtly realized at times, but in large hall scenes in the court, it really comes fully alive, with some great immersive moments filling the surrounds with lots of chatter and Elizabethan music. Nice aural pans crop up from time to time in scenes like horses traversing the screen. Dialogue is crisp and clean and always easy to hear, and the overall balance between dialogue, underscore and foley effects is top notch. There's also a very nice aual delineation between different kinds of spaces. You'll notice a clear difference between the ambience in Elizabeth's court and smaller spaces like Mary, Queen of Scots' lair or even, heaven forfend, the Tower of London.
Elizabeth Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the extras of the SD-DVD edition are ported over to this Blu-ray release, including the excellent commentary by director Kapur. Also on tap are the SD Making of Elizabeth (24:54), featuring a lot of backstage footage as well as some insightful commentary from Kapur and the films' players. The less worthy, EPK-fest, the generically named Elizabeth Featurette (6:04) is frankly lame and not worth your time. The disc also comes BD-live enabled.
Elizabeth Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
You may have seen the story before, in fact you may have seen the story several times before, but Elizabeth has a lot going for it, including an elegant production design and a commanding performance by Cate Blanchett. This Blu-ray offers gorgeous video quality which is a definite upgrade from the SD-DVD. If you're a fan of historical drama, albeit fictionalized, this release comes very highly recommended.
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Elizabeth Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blanchett's Elizabeth Movies Announced on Blu-ray - February 10, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has officially announced the Blu-ray release of Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen. Release date for both movies has been set on April 27, or a little over a month after their ...
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