ELIZABETH: The Golden Age is essentially a Paris couture fashion show with some historical names and details tossed in as a feeble attempt at significance.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the entire movie consists of Cate Blanchett trying on various ornate, richly hued dresses with increasingly intricate wigs and headdresses, until one day when the Spanish armada shows up. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne probably should have got top billing.
Blanchett being Blanchett, she finds some opportunities for subtle, deliciously regal condescension as she returns to the role of Queen Elizabeth I, which turned her into a star and earned her an Academy Award nomination nearly a decade ago.
But more often she vamps it up mightily under the over-the-top direction of Shekhar Kapur, who also made 1998's Elizabeth.
Despite its lofty aspirations and late 16th century setting, this one belongs right up there with Showgirls in the high-camp section of your local video store. Clive Owen wears puffy shirts and dangles from a pirate ship as the devilishly handsome and flirty Sir Walter Raleigh (he also takes part in a corny, soft-core sex scene), while Geoffrey Rush returns from the first film and is sadly squandered as Elizabeth's right-hand man, who somehow manages to remain at the centre of international intrigue even though he's barely around.
The script, from Elizabeth writer Michael Hirst and Gladiator co-writer William Nicholson, contains sprinklings of fact, fiction and mythology with some heaping scoops of romance novel.
Elizabeth, the virgin queen, is tired of being pestered by Rush's Sir Francis Walsingham to find a suitable mate, settle down and start making babies. He thinks it'll make her monarchy stronger.
(This leads to a parade of ill-fitting suitors, a highbrow version of the bad-date montage you'd see in any standard romantic comedy.)
At the same time, the Protestant queen is in danger of being overthrown by Spain's King Philip II (a flamboyant Jordi Molla), who wants to restore Catholicism to England and has no shortage of overzealous followers who are willing to go to war and die for this cause. Meanwhile, there's also an assassination plot afoot that may involve Elizabeth's imprisoned cousin, Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton, also barely used).
Somehow, in the midst of all this turmoil, Elizabeth finds time to dally with the swarthy and adventurous Raleigh, who has just returned from the New World with potatoes and tobacco and a couple of natives, just to prove he was really there. They giggle and ride horses and verbally spar, but there's no way Elizabeth could ever realistically hook up with him (even though he's played by Owen, who is pretty much impossible to resist).
Instead, she sends her most trusted lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish) to get close to him and learn more about him - but then Bess gets too close, which sends Elizabeth into vicious, slapping snits of jealousy and anger. Certainly this must have been a complicated woman; Elizabeth oversimplifies matters and depicts her as having the temperament of a spoiled teenager.
Blanchett nevertheless looks stunning throughout with that translucent skin, those piercing blue eyes and, of course, a different vibrant frock for every occasion.
Kapur drowns all these melodramatic proceedings in the bombastic, omnipresent score from Craig Armstrong and A R Rahman; it swells when it should, it swells when it shouldn't. And while some of the visuals from cinematographer Remi Adefarasin can be lovely (the detailed interiors of the castle, the rolling English countryside), the climactic invasion by Spanish war ships bears the distracting fakeness of an explosive set piece that obviously came out of a computer.
It actually looks like something you could check in front of the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas, every hour on the hour.