Elizabeth - * * * 1/2*

Elizabeth is a loose biopic of the early years of Queen Elizabeth I. It may be a period piece, but it sure doesn’t feel like one. Thick with intrigue, and even thicker with strong performances, Elizabeth is actually more thrilling than many modern-day “thrillers”.

The film starts when Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is merely a princess, and one in considerable danger. The problem, you see, is that she is next in line for the throne…and a Protestant. She constantly awaits an execution order from her half-sister, the dying Queen Mary (Kathy Burke).

Things don’t get any easier when Elizabeth becomes queen herself. The country is in horrible shape, and the political atmosphere is positively deadly. She relies on the advice of the cunning Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) to avoid the most turbulent encounters: particularly the schemes of the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), who is constantly plotting her overthrow.

The chief concern of many, including another trusted advisor, Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), is that Elizabeth marry and produce an heir. Only then will her reign be secure. But the question remains: whom to marry? Marriage alliances with France and Spain present themselves, but Elizabeth’s heart is with Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth is not your typical period piece. In fact, it has a much more Godfather-ian feel than the traditional costume drama. Politics, sex, murder and deceit are everywhere in this film. It’s not just haughty people in strange attire…there’s a tangible sense of danger that permeates the film.

The film owes much of its success to the stunning performance by Cate Blanchett. She is the heart and soul of the film, and her exciting portrayal of the young queen proves that it is a strong heart and vibrant soul indeed.

That’s not to diminish the contributions of the remainder of the splendid cast. Joseph Fiennes is appealing as the forbidden object of Elizabeth’s desire. Christopher Eccleston triumphs over a rather flat character by imbuing him with a truly sinister side. But the true scene stealer is Geoffrey Rush, whose plots and machinations are a delight as they unfold.

The sets of Elizabeth are truly a marvel. Gigantic and sparsely lit, the shadowy castles, damp corridors and opulent rooms help to establish the film’s moody atmosphere.

Director Shekhar Kapur has created a lush, atmospheric picture, which (though it takes a few liberties with history) paints an captivating picture of the slippery slopes of royalty. Elizabeth is truly a fascinating film to watch.

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