Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age Rant

Ah, remember the good old days when comedies could be openly homophobic and historical (I use the term very, very broadly) dramas could be openly Catholicphobic without...

Well, without what, that's the question.

I mean, these days, complaints of hackneyed or negative portrayals of some group are so common that they may have lost their ability to rouse our censure much less our indignation.

I suspect on some level that the opening of Elizabeth: The Golden Age is meant to make me associate Spain with Al-Qaeda, what with the whole Holy War angle and them trying to loose a war on Christian civilization that only Americ...er, protestant England stands in the way of. It reminded me of all the previews for The Alamo that said that the Mexican army under Santa Anna was "one of the most powerful armies ever assembled." I think they, too, were Roman Catholic, weren't they? Hmmm. The plot thickens.

I don't know, maybe this was exactly how it played out, but I suspect, as with the scene of Elizabeth in the bathtub with some female adviser and followed by the awkwardest of love triangles between the Virgin Queen, Sir Walter Raleigh, and said maiden, that the film was trying a bit too hard to be topical rather than insightful. The first film, I thought, tended to focus on the political manueverings of Elizabeth, presenting the queen's love life as secondary to her political pragmatism; this film seems to read like an undergraduate psychoanalytic reading of history crossed with a bad episode of Zalman King's Red Shoes Diaries. Is the Virgin Queen sublimating her unfulfilled (and unfulfillable) sexual desire by vicariously forcing the two people she wants to love her to love each other? Or is she some symbol of neoconservative tyrants who use a veneer of public morality to hide or deny their baser instincts (such as getting a sexual charge out of power over people in all forms)? The whole pancake make-up takes on a whited sepulcher symbolism that I'm not altogether convinced is consistent or intended.

Then again, I'm not altogether convinced anything in this film is intentional other than the message that Catholics are lying, plotting, untrustworthy assassins (whoda thunk it) and that Protestants, like Americans who inherited the tradition of Elizabeth are morally superior protectors of freedom of speech and religion, even while those they are protecting are plotting to take away those very freedoms as soon as they can kill all the leaders.

But if the Spanish (and English) Catholics are the Holy War Jihandists, what are we to make of Elizabeth, the protector of all civil liberties who insists that she will move against her own people only when they break the law and won't have half the population hung or hounded merely because they have ideological differences with her? Is this pandering to American audiences? Is it meant to be a sarcastic comment about how power really sees itself? Is it supposed to be an arch contrast to the "fight them there so we don't end up fighting them here" mindset of the George W. Bush aministration? Is it just supposed to be a historical curiosity without any reference or connection (or comment on) current events?

The film is a mess, ideologically as well as structurally, which is a shame because...well, because there is a certain nostalgia to seeing Cate Blanchett return to the scene of the triumph. Still, it's a real head scratcher. One can only assume that they hoped to fill it with enough pretty set design that nobody would look to hard at what was happening on screen or try to make heads or tails of it.

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