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Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Laurie Sparham/Universal Pictures

Review in a Hurry:  Love triangles! Childish rages! High fashion! Is this a page ripped from a teenager's diary, or a day in the life of a Hollywood starlet, perhaps? Nope, it's Shekhar Kapur's histrionic follow-up to the ravishing Elizabeth. And this lady hasn't gotten better with age.

The Bigger Picture:  Nineteen ninety-eight's Elizabeth invigorated modern cinema with its lavish look at the Virgin Queen, one of the great female leaders in history. A perfectly cast Cate Blanchett exuded regal passion and stoic gravitas in equal measure, and director Kapur captured it all with both passion and precision.

The gang is back in top form with The Golden Age, but the filmmakers have become too comfortable with Elizabeth, taking away the careful respect for her in the first movie and introducing a nudge-nudge-wink-wink coziness here. While the movie hinges on the pivotal war against the Spanish Armada (lots at stake, Protestants vs. Catholics, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.), it dotes on Elizabeth's love life for the majority of the first half.

Romantic possibility for Elizabeth was full of political weight, but in Golden Age she's volatile and girlish. Time is wasted on La Liz's impatient humoring of potential suitors and a fruitless flirtation with explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). Bring on the ships and canons! Elizabeth's appeal is that she was womanly and feminine while deftly executing matters of state in a time when men ruled most of the world.

One can't blame her for going after Sir Walter, however, as Owen is so smoldering he damn near fogs up the screen. And really, one can't blame Kapur either for going a little over the top with his panoramic visuals and steamy love scenes (backed by trembling orchestral crescendos, natch). There is sumptuousness in every physical detail and emotional outburst; but in trying to capture it all with equal vigor, he bypasses the true soul of Elizabeth: her warrior spirit.

Save the romance for a bodice-ripper paperback. Onscreen, Elizabeth should remain a hero of battle and a master of leadership.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  All work and no play make Elizabeth a dull girl: The scenes between her and Owen have true heat, and they allow Blanchett to reveal the vulnerability beneath the power.