elizabeth_ver4_xlgIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Elizabeth is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent through the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Vincent Cassel, & John Gielgud

Directed by: Shekhar Kapur

Screenplay by: Michael Hirst

It would be a mistake to regard Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth as historically accurate, but I can see why people would be upset by the fact that it is not. Unlike a film like Inglorious Basterds, which is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, Elizabeth clearly gives audiences an impression that everything you see in the movie is true. I am pretty much ambivalent about the responsibilities, if any, a filmmaker has to his audience when it comes to depicting history. Oliver Stone received a lot of flack for JFK and how he presented his theory of who killed John F. Kennedy. Stone claimed that he never intended to make viewers think that his film was factually accurate, but I don’t think Stone had any obligation to his audience to explain whether or not his film was truthful. The film remained an engrossing conspiracy drama with great performances and a solid script. With the exception of documentaries, people should not expect movies to give them a definitive account of a historical event. For that, there are books and the internet.

Despite the liberties the filmmakers took in telling the Queen of England’s story, you should not allow this to prevent you from enjoying this engaging and entertaining biographical drama. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards (including for Best Picture and Best Actress), Elizabeth chronicles the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I of England (Cate Blanchett). The film opens with a young Elizabeth, who has been imprisoned by her half-sister, the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, for being a Protestant and thus, posing a threat to the Roman Catholic Church’s hold over England. Queen Mary then dies and, having produced no heir to the throne, Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England. However, the Queen soon finds that she has many enemies loyal to the Pope who desire to see her dead. Being inexperienced in dealing with the political machinations of the Pope’s friends as well as France and Spain, Elizabeth turns to the mysterious Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) to help her consolidate her power and root out her enemies.

In 1998, director Shekhar Kapur presented us with a new and fresh way to make a biographical movie. Elizabeth is told from a more contemporary standpoint that instead of simply stepping through the Queen’s life from birth to death, a single period of her life is focused on and her story is fashioned into a dark  and lavish conspiracy thriller with a strong feminist theme. Kapur and his screenwriter Michael Hirst eschew the dry, boring style of a typical costume drama where the focus would be on stately rituals and civilized grandstanding in favor of showing us melodrama, violence, and political intrigue.

Above all else, Elizabeth is a showpiece for the astonishing performance given by Cate Blanchett, who turned into an overnight star with this film. Blanchett effectively pulls off the Queen’s transition from a politically naïve girl to a woman who rises to the occasion and takes control of her destiny. In the film’s final scene where Elizabeth marches to her throne, Blanchett is stunning in the unspoken power she exudes from her sheer presence. Elizabeth is Cate Blanchett’s movie to own and she does so magnificently among a company of formidable peers such as Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough, and Christopher Eccleston. Blanchett has a physical grace and eloquence that is truly admirable. I am still shocked that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to go with Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress instead of Blanchett. 15 years later, Blanchett’s performance still resonates while we have all forgotten about Shakespeare in Love.

The film’s other great performance is from one of my most favorite actors, Geoffrey Rush. Here he plays Elizabeth’s adviser and the mastermind behind Elizabeth’s entry into power politics, Sir Francis Walsingham. Machiavellian and worldly, Walsingham has no allegiance to any church and does not seem to believe in God so he does not have the moral scruples that Elizabeth does against killing those who may get in the Queen’s way. I love the strange relationship between Walsingham and Elizabeth as the Queen turns to Walsingham out of reluctant necessity. One of the best scenes in the film and where we get to see Walsingham’s cunning mind at full display is the secret meeting between he and Mary Queen of Scots where he seduces and then kills Mary.

I was less impressed by Joseph Fiennes’ character (NOTE: Both Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush also appeared in Shakespeare in Love, which came out in the same year) of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Dudley is a cocky Romeo who has a romantic relationship with Elizabeth despite the fact that he is married. I was never able to emotionally connect with this relationship because the film begins with the two already together and so we don’t see the two characters grow into the relationship and see what it is that attracts one to the other. Fiennes seems to rely more on his good looks than his acting skills and consequently, his performance feels flat and two-dimensional.

If you have not yet seen Elizabeth, I highly recommend you check the film out on Blu-ray or in 1080p. Shekhar Kapur has put together a stunningly lavish production that should only be seen in the highest quality of picture. The film is beautifully shot by Remi Adefarasin (he also shot 2005’s Match Point, another beautiful looking film) and Kapur imbues the film with an Eastern influence thanks to Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs and John Myhre’s production design. Eye-candy fills every frame of the film and Kapur does a good job creating a claustrophobic feel throughout the story that complements the plot’s shadowy political intrigue.

Elizabeth generated quite a bit of controversy upon its release for being “anti-Catholic” and it was condemned for this reason by the Catholic League. I am not familiar enough with British history to know whether the actions the Pope takes in the film is what really happened. However, even though I am not a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church, I immediately noticed how every Catholic in the film is portrayed as being cruel and devious whereas the Anglicans are shown to be rational and caring. So for those devout Catholics out there who have not seen this film, I would probably recommend you stay away from Elizabeth if you tend to get a bit bent out of shape over criticism of the Church.