Elizabeth, 1998. Directed by Shekar Kapur. Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud

There is something slightly off kilter about this account of the early reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, some quality of otherness that disorients the audience. There is, I hesitate to say, something wrong with it. Watching it is like having a subtle, slightly unpleasant halucination. I would be hard pressed to pinpoint exactly what is amiss. Maybe it's a combination of factors. Perhaps it is the way that the unremitting gloominess of the cinematography competes with the incredible sensuousness of the costumes and sets. Maybe it is the way it presents the machinations of Elizabeth's court as a gory soap opera. Maybe it is the subtle homoerotic way in which it films manifestly masculine men in the effeminate fashions of the day. Or maybe it's the way it presents Cate Blanchett's mesmerizing performance as the young queen and adamantly refuses to center the movie on it. It could be any one of these. Or none of them. Or all of them. Probably all of them.

This is a dark, unpleasant movie relieved somewhat by a tactile quality that is quite unique. But whatever appeal this might have, it is undermined by focusing not on Elizabeth herself during the second half of the movie, but on the machinations Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), her de-facto secret policeman. It omits the progression of character development that leads Elizabeth at the end of the movie to transfigure herself into an iconic Virgin Queen to replace the Virgin Mary at the center of the faith she chases from her land, yet the film insists on pursuing this idea to a vaguely grotesque denoument. Puzzling. As I said, there is something off kilter about this movie. Something wrong with it. Something that intervenes itself between the magnificent elements it assembles and the audience and makes the whole thing a chore to watch despite the fascination it exerts.

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