Before Indian-born director Shekhar Kapur ascended to Hollywood heaven with his 1998 Elizabeth, he labored for years in the salt mines of Bollywood, where he was responsible for at least one certifiable classic — Mr. India, an invisible-man adventure-comedy that's as thoroughly appealing as it is ridiculous. It turns out to be a lot easier to enjoy Kapur when we're clearly supposed to be suspending disbelief, however, because when the filmmaker tackles the big dogs of history and dives into Masterpiece Theatre territory, as in his new Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the results are decidedly less happy.
A sequel of sorts to Kapur's '98 take on England's "virgin queen," Elizabeth: The Golden Age lacks even the vaguely Gothic kitsch-horror appeal or its predecessor, as it flits uneasily between two narrative streams that don't ever mesh particularly well. In one parallel plot, we have Elizabeth entertaining the possibility of a suitor (suffering several fops and buffoons before locking eyes on smoldering he-man Clive Owen, as Sir Walter Raleigh), while in the other we get some fairly pedestrian cloak-and-dagger stuff in which assorted Catholic agents scurry about the fringes of the film conspiring to undo the Protestant monarch.
Neither of these stories amounts to much, with the romantic angle boiling down to a half-hearted triangle between Raleigh, the Queen and her lady-in-waiting (Abbie Cornish) that never really goes anywhere. Meanwhile, the movie lurches through a dangerously condensed, black-and-white version of history in which dastardly Catholics lust for innocent Protestant blood, culminating with a big Spain-England smackdown and a flurry of thoroughly unconvincing CGI battles. The sets and costumes are sometimes eye-catching, and Blanchett, ever the trooper, does a commendable job with what she has to work with, but the movie's attempts at humanizing its eponymous monarch are dodgy at best, and its history lesson is strictly Cliffs Notes.
Elizabeth: The Golden Years (PG-13) Stars Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Molla, Abie Cornish and Samantha Morton. Opens Oct. 12 at local theaters. 2.5 stars