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Elizabeth the Golden Age

One disc; Universal; $29.98

By Michael S. Gant

Last year's sequel to 1998's Elizabeth picks up the reign of history's most famous queen (Cate Blanchett) circa 1585. She has consolidated power but is threatened by papist plots on behalf of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), the Spanish Armada and the unexpected emotional challenge presented by puffy-shirted Walter Raleigh. Clive Owen can barely suppress a smirk as the dashing privateer, who courts the queen, diddles her lady-in-waiting (Abbie Cornish) and swings from the rigging of a galleon like the second coming of Errol Flynn. The subtlety of the first film disappears under a load of romance-novel machinations as Elizabeth wrestles with her repressed urge to lose her virgin-queen status to Sir Walt. When the Armada hoves into view on the horizon, she dons her armor, unlooses her red tresses and turns into the Mother of Her People. Like all other screen Elizabeths, Blanchett eventually succumbs to those weird Carrot Top wigs that beckon fatally to costume designers dreaming of Oscars. A fascinating extra about the creation of the Armada scenes includes a marvel of the model-builder's art: a full-size, 70-foot sailing ship mounted on giant gimbals to impart the rolling motion of the waves. Unfortunately, when these scenes are mated to the CGI fleet bobbing on the English Channel, the whole thing looks more cartoonish than the battle scenes in 300. Several times during the various "making of" documentaries, crew members comment obliquely on "how we did so much on such a low budget." Clearly, somebody should have green-lighted more money for the special effects. (Michael S. Gant)

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