My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/05/2010

Best Actress 1998: Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth"

The role of Queen Elizabeth I is always a treat for every actress. To play such a strong, well-known and at the same time unknown historical figure gives the chances to play a wide variety of emotions coupled with a portrayal of royal dominance. It’s not a surprise that actresses from Sandra Bernhardt to Bette Davis to Glenda Jackson to Judi Dench have used the opportunities to play this fascinating character – and they all have left their own distinctive marks on this part. The fact that the dominance of the character easily makes the actual performance often seem much bigger than it actually is makes it very hard for a talented actress to do anything wrong. But even though – success in this part is not achieved automatically but demands an actress who can combine fierce determination, emotionally soft and hard sides and a strong screen presence of truly royal proportions. And Cate Blanchett certainly delivered all this in Elizabeth.

Actually, Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth isn’t a Queen yet at the beginning of Elizabeth. She starts as a playful, innocent young woman whose life depends on the goodwill of her half-sister, Queen Mary. It is during the run of the movie that Elizabeth slowly changes to the famous image of Queen Elizabeth I that is so well-known today – that of a ‘Virgin Queen’, a cold and dominant ruler who overcomes all obstacles and brings fortune and power to her country.

At the beginning of the movie, Cate Blanchett perfectly balances two characteristics of her character: her royal upbringings and her simple life in the English countryside. She knows that she may become Queen someday and is very well aware of her father and her descent but her life hasn’t been really royal so far. In her performance, Cate Blanchett shows just how aware Elizabeth is of all the possibilities of her life but that it all seems like a dream just now – and does she even want to become Queen? Cate Blanchett doesn't answer as the prospects of this scenario seem to please and frighten her, appall her and appeal to her at the same time.

Elizabeth is not a typical historical epos. The style of the film takes a rather modern approach to this historical theme and Cate Blanchett fits this with a performance that combines the typical domineering gestures and movements one would expect of a Queen with various modern and refreshing acting choices. She also never overdoes her work – the role of a Queen certainly invites every award-hungry actress to overacting and larger-than-life scenes but Cate Blanchett always keeps it down and fits her work to the fact that Elizabeth is not really an epos but rather an intimate drama set in a royal surrounding. Her Elizabeth is not a larger-than-life character. Instead, she seems like an actually small and sometimes even helpless woman who is thrown into a larger-than-life world.

Cate Blanchett was smart enough to show a very coquettish, flirting but also confident Elizabeth in the beginning because that way she makes the slow change in her character that takes place during the run of the movie both thrilling and believable. Step by step she loses her inexperience and naivety and instead the self-assurance, which Elizabeth as a member of the royal class has always possessed, develops more and more. In the early scenes with her sister, when Elizabeth seems to be only one step away from death, Cate Blanchett mixes her pleadings for her life with a visible talent for manipulation and persuasion. In the hands of Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth becomes a woman who both belongs in this world and seems misplaced in it. In some ways, the movie could also be called Elizabeth – The Story of a Woman. It tells not only how she becomes a Queen but also how she becomes a confident woman who more and more retreats from her advisors and discovers her own strength and qualities. She realizes that she doesn’t need a husband to secure her country but that she is very able of doing it herself – after all, she is the daughter of her father.

In the later scenes of the story, Cate Blanchett is absolutely captivating and thrilling to watch as she shows that Elizabeth has hardened under her new responsibilities and duties. When she tells Robert Dudley that she is no longer his Elizabeth, these words not only mean that she is no longer his lover but that she also changed as a woman. At the end of the story, one can still see traces of the lively girl from the beginning but at the same time, Elizabeth is shown as a woman who seems to have been defeated by her life as a Queen and has decided that, if she has to be Queen, she will be nothing else and destroy all the traces of her earlier life. Even though Cate Blanchett shows the soft and weak sides of Elizabeth, her performance constantly suggests what a powerful woman she will become and her interpretation always allows this theoretical look in the future. Cate Blanchett shows an inner strength in Elizabeth that is waiting to break free and turn her into the legendary ruler still known and admired today. For this, she smartly uses her expressive face and especially her strong and powerful voice that can be flirty, arrogant, dominant and frightened at the same time.

In the showy and thankful part of Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett is always a very dominant and controlling power, a woman who is constantly aware of her acts and deeds, a woman who is both strong and weak and learns about the dangers, schemes and possibilities of her life as a Queen. All this is done in a performance that never seems forced but is constantly extremly natural and believable. A truly royal performance for which she gets

10 comments:

Zephyr said...

Great review of this performance, and I really agree with you that she did a great job of portraying the fascinating character of Elizabeth I. I enjoyed the film, but I wished it was more historically accurate, as it can frustrate me when filmmakers take a interesting story and change it for no apparent reason. (See my review of A Beautiful Mind which is particularly guilty of this!!)

Louis Morgan said...

Great review. She might be your choice. It is interesting that Geoffrey Rush and Joseph Fiennes are in both this and Shakespeare in Love.

Sage Slowdive said...

She'll be an easy pick :)

My favorite Elizabeth has always been Glenda Jackson's.

joe burns said...

Interesting writeup! Will be your choice, of course. unless you love Watson like you did in Breaking The Waves.

Robert said...

I love this performance! Truly a feat to behold. Great review!

Adam loves Actresses said...

Blanchett was good but like every thing else she's done a tad overrated:)

joe burns said...

My guess for your ranking:

1. Blanchett

2. Paltrow

3. Montengro

4. Watson

5. Streep

And off-topic, but why don't you like Judy Garland? I mean, in general, not just in A Star Is Born.

Fritz said...

@Zephyr: Thanks a lot! You're right that this can be frustrating but I can live with changing a story if it works in the context of the movie.

@Louis: Thanks! You're right! Joseph surely had a great year, making love scenes with Cate and Gwyneth!

@Sage: Well, it's hard to disagree with that!

@Joe: Thanks! I wrote once that I have to rewatch her performance in "A Star is Born" but otherwise I would not say that I dislike her...I just don't care about her. I don't care so much for her voice and her acting style...

@Adam: Welcome! Blanchett can be overrated but she surely wasn't here! :-)

@Robert: Thanks! And of course I agree!

Malcolm said...

The movie is really going silly. And she was the only sign of hope here. She made the movie for me!

Fritz said...

I actually enjoyed the movie.