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by: Michael Dequina

Costumes + British accents = boredom? That may be the case in regard to the Merchant Ivory oeuvre, but in the case of Shekar Kapur's Elizabeth, that could not be farther from the truth. This highly involving period piece shows that with terrific actors and energy and imagination to burn, costumes + British accents = excitement.

In 1558, the young, naive Princess Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is proclaimed Queen of England after the death of her devoutly Catholic half-sister, Queen Mary I (Kathy Burke). Being Protestant and illegitimate (she was borne of an extramarital affair by King Henry VIII), Elizabeth arrives on the throne with a fair share of enemies within her country as well as abroad. As forces ranging from French queen Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant) and the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) plot against her, Elizabeth takes a stand with the help and guidance of ever-loyal Master of Spies Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush).

Anyone expecting a typically stately, in manner and in pace, British historical drama will be jolted by this stylish and fast-paced "historical thriller," in which Queen Elizabeth I's rise to the throne and resulting loss of innocence plays not unlike that of--yes--Michael Corleone's in The Godfather. Michael Hirst's screenplay does not offer any true insight into what made Elizabeth tick, Blanchett's effortlessly commanding Queen is no less a fascinating character; her electrifying Oscar-caliber performance adds the necessary shades and dimensions. Blanchett is just one of a uniformly excellent cast, which also includes charismatic Joseph Fiennes as Elizabeth's love interest, Lord Robert Dudley. Equally as captivating as the cast is the stunning production and costume design, which will surely be rewarded with at least a nomination on Oscar night.

Even if I did not particularly learn anything about British royal history from it, I was completely engrossed by Elizabeth, which not only makes the traditionally stuffy and aloof British costume drama accessible, but entertaining and exciting as well.

RATING: **** 1/2 (out of *****)


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