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Elizabeth: the Golden Age – Anti-Catholic filmmaking

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen and Abbie Cornish
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Rated: M

IT is 1585 and Elizabeth I is still in trouble. Spain is breathing down her neck. Mary, Queen of Scots, is plotting against her.

Bess’ realm is more stable, but not secure. It would be better if Elizabeth marries and produces an heir to her throne.

Walter Raleigh returns from Virginia in the New World and charms the queen. He also charms Bess Throckmorton, the Queen’s Lady of the Privy Chambers.

Bess and Walter’s relationship was to be both their downfalls, at least for a time.

After Elizabeth dispatches Mary Queen of Scots to eternity in 1587, she faces her former brother-in-law Philip II of Spain’s Armada in mid August, 1588.


Internet sites have already gone into meltdown over the historical inaccuracies or otherwise of this film.

Either way, it could be a very profitable exercise for history students to sort out the fact from the fiction.


Elizabeth: The Golden Age gets a number of things wrong.

In 1582 Good Queen Bess was 52 years of age. Her days of courting suitors and having children were over.

Mary Queen of Scots did not have a Scottish accent. She was five when she went to the French Court and 19 when she returned, and her heavily accented English was often commented upon in dispatches.


The scene of the Babington Plot is dramatic, but fanciful.

Elizabeth was never fired upon by an assassin in a cathedral, much less by a gunman who shot a blank under orders from a Jesuit.

There was a Jesuit involved in the plot to be sure. His name was John Ballard, not Robert Reston as the film maintains, and he was certainly not the 16th Century version of The Da Vinci Code monk we find on the screen here.


Furthermore Bess Throckmorton’s pregnancy occurred three years after the Spanish Armada and Sir Walter Raleigh was a ship commander in the famous naval battle.

So, let’s agree that this film is not pretending to be a documentary but is a Hollywood blockbuster sequel. And it has all the pluses and minuses of this beast.

After a slow start, Elizabeth: The Golden Age has a huge music score (too big), sumptuous costumes (too much), and stunning cinematography (too overpowering).

The problem is that it is an epic sequel looking for a genre. It can’t decide if it is a primarily an historical drama, a romance or political thriller.

It straddles all three and never satisfactorily rides any one of them home as a winner.


William Nicholson and Michael Hirst’s screenplay is surprisingly clumsy at times, with some awful dialogue, but the four main actors, three of them Australians, do a more than decent job.

Cate Blanchett demonstrates her usual depth and command in the title role, and Abbie Cornish is perfect for Bess.

Even though Clive Owen is made to look like Errol Flynn at times, he still convinces as a dashing hero.

It is only Geoffrey Rush’s performance which worried me.

There is more than a shade of the pirate Captain Barbossa in his incarnation of Sir Francis Walsingham, or vice versa. On second thought, and either way, that might be an insightful thing.

Of most interest to Catholic readers, however, is the claim that this film is anti-Catholic.

Franco Cardini, professor of mediaeval history at the University of Florence and a consultant to the Vatican Secret Archives has charged that King Philip II is pictured as “ferocious fanatical Catholic who swings his rosary like a weapon”.

Director Shekhar Kapur has responded that, “It’s actually very, very deeply non anti-Catholic. It is anti-extreme forms of religion.”

The problem is that the extremist here is made out to be a bad Catholic madman, physically disabled and all.


The portrayal of the Catholics in this film enables me to have even more sympathy toward Muslims who object to how fanatical modern Islamic terrorists are presented by some recent western films.

There were many more pressing political triggers for the Armanda than a despot’s desire to have a Holy War. But don’t tell Shekhar Kapur because then the film would lose its contemporary resonance.


The most galling thing in all of this is the contrast between Philip’s zealotry and Elizabeth’s piety.

She is made out to want religious tolerance in a multi-faith society.

Unfortunately for this line, even the last film had Elizabeth demanding of parliament to pass the Act of Uniformity, which forbade all Catholic devotions and sacraments in her realm and demanded that everyone attend the Church of England. She made sure it was enforced too.

Moreover keep an eye on how Elizabeth is always pictured as praying privately, quietly and peacefully before a stark altar.

And then notice how the dreaded and dreadful Catholics are usually with their grand or gross priests chanting Latin, praying rosaries, processing, crying out and swinging thuribles before statues of the Madonna and Child. I wonder which one appears saner?

By the end of this film the victorious so-called Virgin Queen concludes this golden age with the line, “Unmarried, I have no master; childless, I am mother to my people. God give me strength to bear this mighty freedom.”

All I could think was that Shekhar Kapur had turned her into “the very model of a modern Major General”, well before her time.

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