Summary: Confusing and disjointed script, but superb acting and beautifully shot and produced.
I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age last night for want of proper timing. It wasn't my first choice, but it was the only movie that started at 9:30, which is when we could get to the theater.
I didn't see the first movie, Elizabeth, which was the first part of the story. Aside from a general gist of the situation, scenes and characters in this movie are often introduced with little explanation. That includes after the scene is done, so that even at the end of the movie you're not entirely sure what a remark meant or who a character was.
I assume that those who saw the first movie will have a better idea about some of these characters.
Nevertheless, the movie does stand alone. Essentially, Elizabeth rules over a divided Protestant/Catholic England. She is Protestant and tolerant of all her countrymen, while the Catholics, both in England and the rest of the world, want to remove her and restore Catholicism to the throne along with the deposed and imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots, the queen's cousin.
Mary is conspiring with King Philip of Spain, an apparent religious effeminate, and they eventually launch their famous Spanish armada to conquer England with well-known results.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is a "virgin" dedicated to her country only. She therefore sends the only person she fancies, Sir Walter Raleigh, to her handmaiden's bed.
The movie is well acted, but the only main character is Elizabeth, beautifully played by Cate Blanchett. Other characters have personalities, but they are only tangentially depicted. The closest to another main personality was the handmaiden, Beth. If just given just a bit more focus in the movie it might have given us an additional character to connect to. Sir Walter Raleigh is given screen time and is ahistorically depicted as dashing, but that's about all he is given to play: dashing.
Instead, the director spends his time pounding us with loud music pregnant with prescient disaster, lots of scene shifting, and incredibly beautiful costumes and shots.
This is all very nice, but one can't but believe that this is yet another movie in the 2000's movie style of overproduction, too fast paced script, and wide and expansive production in the style of The Lord of the Rings. It's an engaging style, but it's an easy prey to fall trap to style over story, and that kind of happens here. It's not a failure, by any means. There's story, but more story and more characters in focus would have been nice.
There are a number of historical problems, which I discovered after the movie and you can ignore if you want. Elizabeth was already 55 when the Spanish armada invaded, therefore the subtext about her producing an heir would kind of been mute by that point. A little chronological play.
There are also a number of things that happened in the first movie which, had I known them, would have made this movie more enjoyable, like who her adviser is and how the Mary/Elizabeth relationship is a parallel to the previous Mary (Mary's mother)/Elizabeth relationship before she became queen. Would have been nice to know about that, as it sets up some important dramatic points that are simply invisible otherwise.
Anyway, some rich cinematography, nice acting, possibly an Oscar-nomination for Cate Blanchett, but otherwise I was a tad disappointed at the lack of coherence.