My current Top 5

My current Top 5

6/22/2010

Best Actress 2007: Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

When it was announced that Cate Blanchett would reprise her star-making and award-winning role as Queen Elizabeth I, the speculations about the possibility of her winning an Oscar for the sequel immediately began to grow. Since it is now seen as almost common knowledge that Cate Blanchett should have received the award already in 1998, this could have been the perfect opportunity for the Academy to make it up to her. And sure enough Cate Blanchett received her second Best Actress nomination for her role and became a member of a very small group of actors who received two Oscar nominations for playing the same role in different movies.

But, just like in 1998, Cate Blanchett had to settle for a nomination – the win was again not possible for her. And while one could certainly argue that she should have received the Oscar for Elizabeth, there is no need to complain about her loss for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

When an actor receives two Oscar nominations for playing the same character in two sequent movies, it is always inevitable to compare these two performances even if they should only be judged on their own merit. But in the case of Cate Blanchett, it is also necessary and helpful to compare the two movies she starred in that covered events from the life of famous Queen Elizabeth I. While Elizabeth shows a young woman who suddenly becomes Queen and has to get used to her new life and deal with various threats and problems, Elizabeth: The Golden Age shows an experienced and strong Queen who must face the danger of the Spanish Armada and deal with unexpected feelings of love and passion. Elizabeth was a movie that showed a rather intimate portrayal of a grand woman but that was still able to become a historical epos because it so thrillingly dealt with the emotions and schemes of its characters. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the exact other way around – it’s a movie that tries to be as epic and majestic as possible but ends up as nothing more than a royal soap opera. And that is also true for Cate Blanchett’s performances.

Her Elizabeth 12 years ago was a complex and rich character, a wonderful creation that combined the inexperience of a young and lively woman with all the qualities of a born Queen. Unfortunately, all these qualities are strangely lost in her work from 2007. But it’s not entirely Cate Blanchett’s fault that her work doesn’t impress the way it used to be – she also suffers from the bad material that she is given throughout the entire running time of Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

The movie begins over 30 years after the last one had ended and it becomes immediately clear that Elizabeth is not the same girlish and lively woman she used to be. Cate Blanchett does a good job in portraying that Elizabeth has turned into a powerful Queen, a woman who has by now gotten used to her position and her obligations and who is aware of her own importance. Still, Cate Blanchett doesn’t display any arrogance in her performance but is able to show all this in a very matter-of-fact way that certainly fits to her royal character. But while she does a good job at showing the growth of Elizabeth at the beginning, there is something strangely off about her performance. Never before in her career has Cate Blanchett seemed so…aware while she was acting. It’s as if she is constantly winking at the audience to tell them ‘I know that I am in a bad movie. But have some fun anyway!’ Cate Blanchett looks right from the beginning as if she knows that her appearance in this film was a bad idea. The young, rather unknown actress from 1998 has turned into a world-known celebrity by 2007 and Cate Blanchett seems to be too sure of herself now. She apparently knows what she can do and what works but it seems as if she is running on auto-pilot, screaming her head off and chewing the scenery while also adding some very welcome quiet moments – it’s all impressive on a technical level, but surprisingly flat nonetheless.

Almost everything that made Elizabeth such a fascinating woman in the first movie is gone from both the script and Cate Blanchett’s performance. She isn’t able to really connect with her surroundings, with the audience and not even with her own work a few years earlier. Cate Blanchett never makes it imaginable what might have happened between the first and the second movie – in those thirty years that are untold but undoubtedly shaped this woman. Cate never gives any hints about this process and so the viewer can only connect the two performances directly – but they are too different to make this work.

But even though Cate Blanchett doesn’t reach the same levels here as before, she certainly isn’t to blame for the mess that is Elizabeth: The Golden Age. This is entirely the fault of an uneven script and a director who apparently had absolutely no idea if he was directing a drama, an action thriller or a romance. The movie obviously wanted to put the tensions between Spain and England in the foreground but at the same time keep the sea battle for the finale. So the only thing the viewer gets is some shots of an angry looking Spanish king and his weird daughter every once in while. But since this is not enough to fill an entire story, there is also a secret plot against the Queen’s life (sounds familiar? Right, that was already in the first movie), an unhappy romance (sounds familiar again? Maybe because that was already in the first movie) and a sub-plot concerning Mary Stuart. This could actually have been a very interesting story but the movie so completely rushed through this without ever even beginning to explore the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary. So when Mary is put to death and Elizabeth begins to feel guilty and wants to stop the execution and runs around her palace, screaming and crying, it is certainly a good opportunity for Cate Blanchett to show her talents but it seems just totally out of place since the movie never answers the question of ‘Why?`.

The love story, so interesting and captivating in Elizabeth, also does not really work this time. Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett share absolutely no chemistry with each other and Cate Blanchett seems never to know what she wants to express: is Elizabeth a frustrated old spinster or a passionate woman who must keep her feelings to herself or a cold Queen who years ago decided to give her live to England and for whom the thought of a romance is frightening? Cate Blanchett jumps from one expression to the next without ever connecting them.

But even though, Cate Blanchett deserves all the credit she can get for at least getting something out of her part despite being too misguided by the script and her director. Her famous scene with the Spanish Ambassador is surprisingly thrilling and exciting to watch in the context of the film. Cate Blanchett wonderfully shows how Elizabeth doesn’t seem to be able to trust her own ears when she hears the open threats and how the outburst of anger is the only way for her to express her confusion and worries. Playing a Queen for whom her royal status becomes too much has already been the biggest success in her earlier performance and these are again the moments when she shines. Cate Blanchett’s quiet but at the same time filled with fear voice when she warns about the Armada that is bringing the Spanish inquisition to England is an unforgettable moment that makes one wish that she would have had more chances to prove her talent for subtle displays of all kinds of emotions. Unfortunately instead there is only more of her ill-fated love to Walter Raleigh and a ridiculously over-the-top scene when she is slapping his mistress. Still, Cate Blanchett’s powerful screen presence and her strong voice fit perfectly to her character and there is no denying that she can create more wonderful moments besides the already mentioned highlights, like her scene in the church or the early scenes with her maid.

Overall, Cate Blanchett goes from one extreme to the other, from bad to wonderful, from strangely over-the-top to amazingly subtle, from a carricature to a character – often only in a few seconds and it becomes almost exhausting to watch as the movie itself doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in helping her. It’s almost as if Elizabeth is an unwanted character in this story and she is very often neglected to the background and even when she is the center of attention, the script and the director seem to be interested in something else. Her big speech before the deciding battle is such a moment that seems destined to be a showcase for Cate Blanchett and an exciting moment in the story but the execution is rather disappointing.

Compared to her performance 9 years earlier, the decline of quality in Cate Blanchett's work is almost shocking. But judged on its own, what remains is a competent performance that is worth seeing but also falls too short in a lot of aspects. Sometimes it is good, sometimes even very good, with some occasional highlights but often incredibly weak. An uneven performance that gets

10 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

Again the second performance is worse. I think O'Toole is the only one not like that.

Sage Slowdive said...

Hmmm, I was sort of struck by the rating.

Fritz said...

I guess you expected less? I know I bashed her a lot in my review, maybe I should have talked more about the positive things...but I did say that she had some good moments and did some good things...

Louis Morgan said...

Isn't the lowest you go for a nominated performance a three Fritz?

Fritz said...

So far, yes. But it's possible that one day a performance might get less than three.

joe burns said...

What was her rating? I can't see it right now.

Great review! I remember actually liking her when I saw the movie, but that was two years ago, so I'll have to see it again. And why didn't you do Marion first? And please do Page next!

Fritz said...

@Joe: Thanks! Can't you see the rating for Cate? It's 3,5.

I didn't do Marion at the beginning because I just didn't feel like writing about her today. In my mind, the review for Cate was already finished so I just had to write it down. I will probably do Laura or Ellen next!

joe burns said...

Yay! My guess is that Laura will get four and Page will get 3, 5.

joe burns said...

And I remember you saying that you wanted to see The Magnificent Ambersons so here's a link if you need one:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hg6emvCqvBE

Fritz said...

Thanks a lot! I hope I get the time someday!