There is something I've always enjoyed about period pieces. A film may have a thin and porous plot, but if the costumes, sets and props are nicely done and pay proper homage to a particular period, then I can forgive a weak or inaccurate story. "Bram Stoker's Dracula" is one of my favorite films and much of my interest in that picture is the visual splendor captured by its filmmakers. The historically inaccurate "Elizabeth" is another film in which I enjoy the look and feel of the film to an extent where I hold the film in high regard. The film is loosely based on the early days of Queen Elizabeth I of England and is sometimes slows and monotonous in its storytelling, but the visuals and presentation of 1500s England is captivating and pleasing.
The film did receive six Academy Award nominations and there is certainly more to "Elizabeth" than just eye candy. "Elizabeth" garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Cate Blanchett and another nomination for Best Film. It brought home neither statue. To back up my interest in the film's physical appearances, "Elizabeth" did win the Oscar for Best Makeup and was nominated for Best Art/Set Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. The final nomination for the film was Best Original Dramatic Score. With one win and three nominations pertaining directly to the look and feel of the picture, I'm not the only person who was impressed with how great looking of a film "Elizabeth" is.
In the picture, Elizabeth (Blanchett) gains control of the crown of England when her sister Queen Mary succumbs to cancer. Elizabeth had plotted to have her sister murdered, but becomes the monarch of England due to natural causes and earns release from prison for her crimes against her sister to become Queen Elizabeth I. One of the early problems surrounding Elizabeth's rule is the perception that she should find herself a King and much of the first half of the film focuses on attempts at finding a suitor for Elizabeth. Her advisors believe she should marry Henri, Duc d'Anjou (Vincent Cassel), but she rejects this notion and pursues the romantic interest of her life-long love Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). William Cecil (Sir Richard Attenborough) is unable to sway his Queen and she takes claim as the Virgin Queen of England.
With Elizabeth failing to wed and procreate an heir to the throne, the Queen decides to strengthen her rule by eliminating those that oppose her. She enrolls the aid of Sir Francis Walshingham (Geoffrey Rush) to bring death to the Catholics and other vocal opponents of her rule. Those that fall to Elizabeth's murderous tyranny include the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleson) and Scottish ruler Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardent). She limits the Pope's (John Gielgud) influence over her rule and his attempts at bringing the throne of England back under Catholic rule. Elizabeth brings an end to her secretive romance with Robert Dudley by banishing him from England.
The story itself is entertaining and engaging; even if there are numerous historical inaccuracies contained within the film. Michael Hirst's screenplay nicely presents the influence and struggles between the powerful churches of England and the throne. Protestants and Catholics have long struggled to coexist and many bloody conflicts have resulted between them; Ireland being a prime example. Before the separation of church and state, England had a volatile political climate and "Elizabeth" nicely weaves this element of 1500's England into the narrative. Using murder as a means to influence is another key element of the times and strongly supported by Hirst's story. Sure, Walsingham may not have been responsible for the death of Mary of Guise in reality, but it makes for a good story.
Actress Cate Blanchett earned a Golden Globe award for her role as Queen Elizabeth and she was deserving of the accolades she received for her performance; hers is a masterful acting job in the film. Blanchett portrays power, passion and nobility as the young Queen of England. I cannot imagine another actress in the title role. She looks amazing as Queen Elizabeth I. She is joined by a strong supporting cast. Richard Attenborough and John Gielgud bring a veteran presence to the film. Geoffrey Rush is a quality addition to any film. Vincent Cassel, Joseph Fiennes, Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccelson are other familiar faces that deliver in their roles, with Fiennes serving as the primary love interest for the main character.
Looking over an older review of the original DVD release of "Elizabeth," I had given director Shekhar Kapur a little too much credit for maintaining historical accuracy. However, I had given props for showing the flirtatious and frivolous nature of Elizabeth during her early rule. The dance sequences in the film show the young Queen as anything but noble. I remarked at how the film portrayed the war between Elizabeth and the Catholic Church. I still stand by my support of those elements of the film, although Kapur did take a little more dramatic license than I had recognized when I first watched the film. My recent education was a benefit of improved Internet resources and some quality viewing time on cable television. Even with my larger amount of knowledge pertaining to the rule of the ‘Virgin Queen,' I still enjoy "Elizabeth" and consider this to be an above average film. True, I enjoy the film more for its portrayal of the period, but Blanchett, Rush and Fiennes are great actors and the final product is well worth watching.
I was never overly excited with the visuals of the original DVD release of "Elizabeth" and felt that it did not bring the true beauty of the film to the viewer. Thankfully, the HD-DVD is a superior mastering of the film and the 1.85:1 framed picture looks quite stunning. This truly is a film where visuals are key and I am more than pleased with the higher definition visuals provided by this release. The heavy film grain and less than stellar colors of the original DVD have been left behind and this crisp new release is not the most spectacular of releases on the format, but the detail and coloring are better than average and bring the visual creations of Shekhar Kapur and director of photography Remi Adefarasin to the small screen with class.
Colors nearly leap off the screen and each hair on Blanchett's wig comes through in vivid detail. The historically inaccurate blue eyes of Blanchett are captivating and a testament to how good this transfer looks when compared to the muddy original. The ornate times of the mid 1500s were populated with bright colored costumes and plenty of gold and silver. The full rainbow of colors is perfectly saturated and you'd be hard pressed to find too many films with better coloring. The metallic colors have a believable shine and luster. Detail is deep during even the darkest moments and the rough textured stone and intricate clothwork of the costumes are impressive in 1080p resolution. The source materials are clean and nary a speck of dirt can be found.
The horns contained within "Elizabeth" sound amazingly crisp and clear and are among the more memorable sonic moments of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are also provided for English and Spanish for those without the ability to enjoy the solid TrueHD mix. "Elizabeth" is not an overly impressive experience in the realm of sound, but it is technically proficient. The mix is front-heavy and aside from the most robust musical moments, the rear speakers are not given a large supply of information to pass along to the viewer's ears. There are some nice environmental sounds moved to the rears during a few busy crowd scenes and to convey the sound of the grand churches shown in the film, but hardly any sound effects are moved around the back channels. The .1 LFE channel rumbles when needed, but it too is not often called to the service of the Queen. Dialogue is clean and easily intelligible. The TrueHD mix doesn't do anything wrong, but it isn't given any opportunity to truly shine.
When Polygram first released "Elizabeth" onto DVD, the disc was filled with a decent number of supplements. However, today's HD-DVD port of those supplemental items is not quite as impressive as it was back in the late Nineties and they were not updated to take advantage of the high definition resolution. Some of the minor features are missing from what was included on the DVD, as the teaser trailer and cast and crew biographies are now absent. Universal has made some amends by including a short Sneak Peek of Elizabeth: The Golden Age (5:50) onto the disc and this is nothing more than a promotional vignette advertising the sequel to this film.
The ported features are still decent enough. The Feature Commentary with Director Shekhar Kapur finds the director not being the most entertaining voice to listen to for two hours, but he does provide a good commentary that details many historical facts that were not altered in the film and information surrounding the production of "Elizabeth." He goes into details about the usage of wide angle and overhead shots and dishes on his views on the various actors that worked for him on this film. There is a lot of information provided in this commentary and you can get a sense as to why "Elizabeth" garnered as many accolades as it did.
There are two features and the film's Theatrical Trailer. The Making of Elizabeth (24:53) is lengthy enough to take a comprehensive look at the film without digging too deep into any one particular area. Kapur, producer Allison Owen and others provide talking heads moments discussing this picture and their experiences into making it, as well as providing insight into why the interpreted the personality of "Elizabeth" and not necessarily all of the historical facts. The shorter Elizabeth Featurette (6:04) is wholly promotional and can be passed over after watching the making of feature and the theatrical trailer. The commentary and the half-hour long making of feature would have been solid supplements when "Elizabeth" bowed on DVD, but they don't stack up to today's feature-laden releases.
I enjoyed "Elizabeth" when it was first released onto DVD. My first copy of the film had a problematic layer switch on a disc that was known to be one of the smoothest layer transitions on the fledgling DVD format. Oddly, I was able to use my information from the bad copy to win a clean copy of the film by guessing the exact second of the layer switch. Looking back, my inside information was probably closer to cheating, but I watched the film a half a dozen times and loved the period sets and costumes shown in the film. It was nominated for Best Picture and was easily one of the best films of its year. The film is still a visual feast and has held up nicely. The new HD-DVD release corrects the wrongs with the less-than-impressive visuals of the original DVD release and brings a new TrueHD soundtrack as well. The supplements are pretty much the same as the older disc and aren't near as impressive as today's films. This is a superior film to its sequel and one of the finer films offered on the HD-DVD format.