Sunday, 18 November 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age ends with a lie. The triumphalism is irksome. Defeating the Spanish Armada is dealt with by Bill Bryson in his new biography of Shakespeare in two pages.

Again, there are inconsistencies. Bryson says no English ships were lost. The movie tries to build tension at this point by relaying news of losses to the flagship.

Further, the movie borrows shamelessly from The Lord of the Rings, viz the lighting of signal fires to announce the enemy's approach.

And while it opens with plainsong coming from the mouths of 'sinister' monks in Spain, the music depends largely on the kind of stereotypical atmospherics this kind of melodic construct offers, and which has been used again and again over the years (even Simon Schama relied heavily on it) when depicting 'ye olde Englande'. It's not good enough.

Remi Adefarasin's cinematography, however, is excellent. A lot of shots are oblique and interesting. Further, many shots of individuals in moments of drama are taken behind a screen of some sort, providing a nice counterpoint to the insane reliance people in those days had on religion to define themselves. Bryson mentions sumptuary laws (Alexandra Byrne's costumes are not only spot-on but dramatically satisfying) and here we see how individuals were largely defined by rank. Walsingham's wife, particularly, is very good in this regard.

I wept in many places. Nevertheless small details irked. Of particular note is the Scotch accent used by Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). It is unlikely given that she spent the first 13 years of her life in France. It is further not adequate that the Scotch used in the (louring, Romantic) Scots scenes is so close to English pronunciation as to be almost identical. Scotch of the time contained many words not used in English. Subtitles would be preferable.

As to the lie the film ends with, it's the assertion that, while Spain went bankrupt, England "entered into a period of peace and prosperity". Nonsense. Within thirty years the people Elizabeth purported to protect (the word 'Puritan' is a derogatory introduced around this time) by keeping the Inquisition at bay, would be fighting against Mary's grandson for control of the revenue.

The result of the struggle would be, far more than Elizabeth's triumph over the Spanish, the establishment of a power-sharing situation on which all modern nation states that can claim to be democratic, are based. The triumph is not with people like Walter Ralegh or Francis Walsingham, but with people we never see in this film.

Bryson, in his Shakespeare biography, pours scorn on the Puritans because they closed the theatres. In the film they are totally overlooked. But it is in their continued existence and in the prosperity their endeavours gave rise to, that we find the surest signs of individual "conscience" (the word is Elizabeth's, just prior to the 1688 battle).

Another signficant character is John Dee, ERI's necromancer and the man she apparently turned to for future prognostication. Dee stands, with Francis Bacon, at the head of a succession of inquirers that lead up to the discoveries of Newton 100 years later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My recollection (from books, of course, I wasn't there myself) is that beacon fires were used.

I think you are right about Mary Q of Scots' accent; the Raleigh stuff is surely all made up; surely ER never road a horse astride in armour; and the defeat of the Spanish was a far more protracted affair - the fireships were used when they were moored off Calais.

I am sorry they left out the bit where Mary Q of Ss' wig came off just after she was beheaded.

The funniest thing though must be how, because of the shortage of genuinely old secular locations, so much of the dear queen's private life appears to have been conducted in various well-known churches.