Academy Award winners Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Richard Attenborough lead a distinguished cast in Elizabeth - the critically acclaimed epic of the queen's turbulent and treacherous rise to power.
Before the Golden Age, Elizabeth was a passionate and naive girl who came o reign over a land divided by bloody turmoil. Amid palace intrigue and attempted assassinations, the young queen is forced to become a cunning strategist while weighing the counsel of her mysterious advisors, thwarting her devious rivals, and denying her own desires for the good of the country.
Relive the majesty and drama of one of history's greatest monarchs in this stunning production that was honored with 7 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture!
The story of England's Queen Elizabeth I is the stuff of legend. Born into a culture that viewed women as little more than property and allowances, the willful female monarch injected a welcome dose of progress into a stiflingly stagnant culture during her reign from 1559 to 1603, contending all the while with a barrage of conflicts, attempted coups, and rebellions. Yet while the sheer volume of filmable material from the queen's reign is awe-inspiring, over the decades she has rarely been portrayed on film as more than a minor, misunderstood character.
That changed with the award winning 1998 release of 'Elizabeth,' a sweeping exploration of the life and times of the "once and future queen," helmed by Indian director Shekhar Kapur. Focusing on Elizabeth's early years in power, the film examines the influences and politics that shaped her reign, as well as the personal struggles of the pale-faced "virgin queen" that has been depicted in so many paintings and history books over the last four hundred years.
The film begins with the cancerous deterioration of Mary I (Kathy Burke), an irritable Catholic ruler who is forced to leave the throne in the hands of her half sister -- a wide-eyed protestant girl named Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett). The new queen is given a crash course in ruling a kingdom with the help of a loyal advisor (Geoffrey Rush) who wisely introduces her to the countless enemies that wish her harm. At the same time, she has to deal with an endless chain of suitors vying for a place by her side, all power-hungry elitists who fail to stir up the same emotions that she feels for her childhood love, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes).
Although she faces a variety of challenges, one of her greatest threats comes in the form of the Catholic church, furious at the sudden rule of a Protestant. Over the course of the film, Elizabeth must contend with a traitorous loyalist to the Church (Christopher Eccleston), greedy and aggressive attacks from France, and the ruler of Scotland (Fanny Ardant) who wants the throne for herself.
Widely praised by critics and audiences alike, 'Elizabeth' is probably best known for its performances -- and not without good reason. Blanchett, Rush, and Fiennes all craft engrossingly complex renditions of their characters worthy of their numerous nominations and awards. Simply put, this is one of those rare films where I forgot I was watching a group of actors and instead found myself immersed in another time and place.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the sets, costumes, and photography are filled with earthy textures and intricate details that bring 16th century England to life. I'm not the kind of guy who usually comments on this sort of thing -- if I don't notice shoddy production work, I generally take design elements like these for granted. But the world presented in 'Elizabeth' is so rich that I simply couldn't get over the authenticity of this gorgeous fabrication.
Matching the film's top-tier performances and design asthetic is a dark script with palpable momentum that makes this rather lengthy character study seem much shorter than it is. There are any number of intriguing, psychological layers to the film that always keep my brain working even when the camera is sitting still.
In the end, my only issue with the film (and it's admittedly a nitpick) is that Kapur takes a number of serious liberties with history. I understand this is necessary to streamline a film of this sort, but it's frustrating that the director hinges Elizabeth's ultimate character arc on one of these alterations (the historical Elizabeth was well aware of the fact that Robert Dudley was married). Still, this is a minor point that's likely to only distract students of history -- film fans will be largely unaffected and are almost sure to enjoy the story on its own merits.
A cinematic tour de force that combines sublime acting with flawless art direction and a great script, 'Elizabeth' deserves every ounce of critical acclaim it has amassed over the years. Newcomers will find a lot to love here, and I certainly suggest watching this film before tackling the sequel.
Universal Studios brings 'Elizabeth' to Blu-ray with a sometimes stunning video presentation many will find enjoyable and pleasing to the eye. But after years and countless hours of high-definition viewing, this 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1), which appears identical to the HD DVD release of 2007, doesn’t make much of an impression and is actually slightly underwhelming.
The transfer’s best feature is, of course, a lush palette which runs the gamut of bright, vivid colors. The extensive assortment of primaries and secondary hues are cleanly rendered and really bring the picture to life. On the other hand, contrast is not always consistent, with nighttime scenes looking especially dreary, while only a handful of daylight sequences give the image some decent depth. Black levels are somewhat affected, appearing lackluster in a few instances, although dimly-lit interiors are deliberately murky and background info is lost. There are several moments, particularly in close-ups, when facial complexions are lovely to look at, but they are quite often too rosy or flushed. It’s possible this is also the result of some deliberate make-up work, but I can’t be certain.
Details are mostly average for a catalog release though it is still a significant improvement from the film’s standard definition counterpart. Exteriors and brightly lit rooms reveal good textures in the architecture and fine lines in the large array of costumes. Only, several moments throughout make me suspect the use of some sharpening tools as well as the application of digital noise reduction. There is also some light banding in the sky early on which is worth noting. Whatever the case may be, this Blu-ray version of 'Elizabeth' doesn’t make as strong an impression as the HD DVD was released nearly three years ago.
As with the video, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is identical to the Dolby TrueHD option on the other format. Comparatively speaking, I couldn’t discern any significant difference between the two – not that I really expected any, of course. I just wanted to make sure and tested them out.
This may not be the sort of material to demo one’s sound system, but this dialogue-driven design puts on a surprisingly good show. There’s plenty of activity between the three front channels with beautifully balanced separation. Imaging is wide and welcoming with strong dynamics and an appropriately responsive low-frequency. Vocals are superbly prioritized and precise. The only action going in the surrounds comes from the impressively realistic echoes of voices and the footsteps of menacing individuals. David Hirschfelder’s haunting musical score also bleeds into the background marvelously, enveloping and maintaining viewer engagement. There is the occasional ambient effect in some outdoor scenes, but it’s nothing too memorable. In the end, the lossless mix is highly enjoyable and more than adequate for a historical period piece.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Elizabeth,' Universal Studios also ports over the same supplemental package found on previous releases. It might have been nice to see something new, like a retrospective or a documentary on the real Queen Elizabeth. But what we are given is a depressing collection of featurettes.
Written by the creator of 'The Tudors' (Michael Hirst) and directed beautifully by Shekhar Kapur, 'Elizabeth' is a stunning, visionary look at one of the most influential women of the early modern period. From the costuming and photography to the performances and the script, it is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, creating a dramatic and human portrayal of an important historical figure. This Blu-ray edition of the film, arrives with slightly less impressive picture quality, but an enjoyable audio presentation, while the bonus features are also a grave disappointment. The feature film itself is highly recommended, but some might want to give it a rent first before making a final decision to purchase.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.