One of the big Elizabethan-era films of 1998, Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth
serves up a brimming goblet of religious tension, political conspiracy, sex, violence, and war. England in 1554 is in financial and religious turmoil as the ailing Queen "Bloody" Mary attempts to restore Catholicism as the national faith. She has no heir, and her greatest fear--that her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth will assume the throne after her death--is realized. Still, the late Queen Mary has her loyalists. The newly crowned Elizabeth finds herself knee-deep in dethroning schemes while also dodging assassination attempts. Her advisers (including Sir William Cecil, superbly played by Richard Attenborough) beg her to marry any one of her would-be suitors to stabilize England's empire. No matter that she already has a lover. The passionate Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes) is married, however, and shows he cannot stand up to the growing strength of the Queen. With the help of her aide Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth strikes against her enemies before they get to her first. But her rise ultimately entails rejecting love and marriage to redefine herself as the indisputable Virgin Queen.
Cate Blanchett's Oscar-nominated performance as the naive and vibrant princess who becomes the stubborn and knowing queen is both severe and sympathetic. Her ethereal, pale beauty is equal parts fire and ice, her delivery of such lines as "There will be only one mistress here and no master!" expressed with command rather than hysterics. As striking as Blanchett's performance is the film's lavish and dramatic production design. The cold, dark sets paired with the lush costuming show the golden age of England's monarchy emerging from the Middle Ages. Rich velvet brushes over the dank stones while power is achieved at any price, and with such attention to physical detail, Elizabeth fully immerses you into its compelling chronicle of pioneering feminism and revisionist history. --Shannon Gee