New Articles
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Nov. 25/98 (B)

................................................................. From the Guardian-Observer... Friday October 2, 1998 Liz the lionheart If Shakespeare had made a film, it would have been like this. By Richard Williams Deploying the richness of a pageant and the sweep of a thriller, Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth is the very model of a successful historical drama - imposingly beautiful, persuasively resonant, unfailingly entertaining. It's tempting to suggest that if Shakespeare had come back four centuries later to make a movie about his Queen, this is how it might have turned out. Instead the job fell to Kapur, the Bombay-born director whose Bandit Queen established his international reputation five years ago. His new film deals with the period from 1554, four years before the coronation of Elizabeth I, to 1572, the year in which she finally extinguished the enemies who had plotted to remove the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and reinstall the Church of Rome. Kapur's commercial hook is provided by the well-publicised decision of Kapur and Michael Hirst, the author of the screenplay, to deal boldly with the issue of Elizabeth's single most legendary characteristic. "I had to make a choice," the director told a journalist last week, "whether I wanted the details of history or the emotions and essence of history to prevail." For once, the commitment to emotional truth appears to have incurred no penalty in terms of historical integrity, thanks not least to the qualities brought to the central character by the remarkable Cate Blanchett, who manages to persuade us that, given enough willpower, a woman can regain - yes, regain - her virginity. There have been many celluloid versions of Elizabeth, from Sarah Bernhardt to Glenda Jackson via Flora Robson, Bette Davis and Jean Simmons. Blanchett's triumph is to create a thoroughly convincing depiction of the journey from canoodling girlhood to the threshold of an imperial monarchy, battling her fears, shedding illusions, absorbing pain, learning judgment, turning anxiety into resolution, acquiring steel and sinew. When we meet her, she is aged 21 and already in love with Lord Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (the liquid-eyed Joseph Fiennes). The untimely death of the childless Queen Mary (Kathy Burke) brings her reluctantly to the throne, unprepared for the pressure to marry a Catholic - either the King of Spain or the Duc d'Anjou, for preference - and to produce an heir. This is a world of tallow candles and velvet drapes, of menacing shadows and distant footsteps echoing on flagstones, of the camera looking directly down on momentous events (the burning of martyrs, an interrogation, a coronation) like a recording angel. Kapur and his designer, John Myhre, and costumier, Alexandra Byrne, make an intelligent mainstream assimilation of the visual vernacular created by Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman - a stylised and ornate idiom which is counterbalanced by Hirst's dialogue, written with an economy that keeps the sumptuous images from dragging at the heels of the narrative. Unlike Patrice Chereau's otherwise not dissimilar La Reine Margot, the viewer is not made to feel that the project has suddenly been hijacked by Bruce Weber and turned into an ad for Calvin Klein underwear. Knights, courtiers and bishops loom like giant chess pieces, with Elizabeth pursued across the board by her chief adversary, the sinister Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), whose advocacy of the Catholic cause is abetted by the ambassadors of Spain (James Frain) and France (Eric Cantona), pressing the suit of their masters. The young Queen's support comes first from the ineffectual Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), whose advice leads to a massacre on the Scottish border at the hands of the French, and later from Sir Francis Walsingham, her Master of Spies and consigliere, given a cool, dangerous and watchful presence in Geoffrey Rush's memorable portrayal. At the head of a small but distinguished French contingent, Cantona refrains from kicking anyone, but raises his eyebrows and delivers his lines with a hauteur that will give his old fans a nostalgic thrill. If the business of Elizabeth's betrothal to the Duc d'Anjou had gone to a penalty shoot-out, you wouldn't have bet against the Frogs as long as Eric le Fou was on the park. As the hilariously perverse Anjou, Vincent Cassel invests the repetition of a single word - 'Well? Well?' - with a world of comic petulance, broadening still further the range he showed in La Haine and L'Appartement. Fanny Ardant plays his bloodthirsty aunt Mary of Guise, the widow of James V of Scotland and mother of Mary Queen of Scots, who sends Elizabeth a gift from the battlefield: a French flag stained with English blood. The enemy inside the palace wall is embodied in the scheming priest John Ballard, played by Daniel Craig, who thus leaps in the space of a fortnight from one screaming Pope to another: from Francis Bacon's canvases in Love Is The Devil to an audience with John Gielgud's pontiff, issuing a papal fatwa against the Queen of England. Craig's mission involves the use of a poisoned frock, one idea that has so far eluded even Alexander McQueen. In two very different sequences - the rehearsal of her key speech to Parliament, cleverly mounted by Kapur and his cinematographer, Remi Adefarasin, and the delivery of the speech in which she claims possession of 'the heart of a man' - Blanchett is nothing short of electrifying. And in her climactic transfiguration, the face that first presented itself in undefended mobility is finally hardened into a mask, while the voice, interestingly, descends to a Thatcherian contralto profundo. Kapur fills his palaces and cathedrals with enough diseased ambition to rival Kane's Xanadu, creates a picturesque battlefield, and lights a night-time riverscape with fireworks that appropriately cast more shadow than light. Fans of Coppola's Godfather series will nod approvingly at the dark choreography that brings the various traitors to their simultaneous fates, accompanied by a soaring choir. Elsewhere there is sometimes a little too much reliance on orchestral music, although the choice of Elgar's stately Nimrod to underscore Elizabeth's final mettlesome confrontation with Leicester is inspired. In fact, you can't help hoping that the same team is already planning the sequel. On this form, their Elizabeth II would be something to see. ---- From the Telegraph... ISSUE 1225 Friday 2 October 1998 Good Queen Bess as a born-again virgin Quentin Curtis on this week's new releases: our critic is charmed by Elizabeth THE cutting of the Queen's hair in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth - unlike the case of Samson - signals the confirmation of power rather than its shedding. You can trace the progress of Elizabeth, from commoner to novice monarch to secure leader, through the state of her coiffure. Long, flowing tresses give way to formal curls and, finally, as the lady-in-waiting's shears come out, to the fiery fringe, bonnetted and bejewelled, that flares at us from the paintings. We see too, in Elizabeth's last, transformative scene, the young Queen apply the white cream to her face to give it its familiar pallid intensity. It is a strength of Elizabeth, part of its originality, that it ends where most Bess biopics begin. The Queen is young at the movie's close. A list of clichés we are spared includes Sir Francis Drake, the Armada and "the singeing of the King of Spain's beard", Shakespeare and Spenser, and the Earl of Essex. Instead we have the death of Queen Mary (Kathy Burke); Elizabeth's fraught succession; her dalliance with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Joseph Fiennes); the romantic suits of the Duc D'Anjou and King Philip II of Spain; trouble with Mary of Guise (Fanny Ardant), and treason at home, both trumped by Elizabeth's ace adviser, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). Elizabeth I has had a hard time of it cinematically - a rough, as well as a ruff, ride. In most films of her story she has seemed tetchy as well as imperious, whether it be Flora Robson's school marm in Fire Over England or Glenda Jackson's Islington councillor in Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth is the first film to allow Elizabeth to be a person first: an ordinary woman stuggling towards becoming a queen - and an icon. Cate Blanchett captures marvellously the sense of a woman grappling with her own destiny, from the moment when pleasure mingles with fear in her face as she is told of her succession. With her high brow and strong, mettlesome features, Blanchett has the face for the skull-like intensity of Elizabeth. She uses her wry humour to suggest the glimmer of amusement that sustained Elizabeth. If you are looking for modern equivalents, there is a trace of Margaret Thatcher in her making a virtue of single-mindedness; of Diana, Princess of Wales in her (power-) playful flirtation. This is an Elizabeth who, entangled in brutal politics, acts on impulse, and is saved by having an instinct that is naturally righteous. Her other saviour is Walsingham, a Machiavellian security adviser and safe pair of hands (never safer than when around a traitor's neck). This is Geoffrey Rush's best performance since Shine. Grave and intelligent, his Walsingham is a man who has supped full on horrors and learned to digest them with an even disposition. "There is so little beauty in this world," he tells a man sent to kill him, before slitting his throat, "and so much suffering." Pondering the absence of God, he wonders whether we are alone with our frailties. His ruthlessness, a weary pragmatism, stems from dark insight. In Rush's hands, he is worthy not only of Elizabeth but of Elizabethan drama. Elsewhere the casting is stranger, not to say sillier. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if the whole movie was cast over a drunken dinner party. Christopher Eccleston is suitably intense as the plotting Norfolk, but Richard Attenborough is a little flat as the faithful if misguided adviser, Sir William Cecil. There is also the mandatory appearance from Sir John Gielgud, as the Pope, and a host of bizarre cameos from the likes of Wayne Sleep, Angus Deayton and Eric Cantona. Cantona, renowned for his ghosting in on goal on the football pitch, has timed his transfer from Old Trafford's fading Theatre of Dreams to the sound-stage well and performs creditably as a French ambassador. The celebrity casting is all of a piece with the movie's overall flashiness. Shekhar Kapur, the Indian director of Bandit Queen, has undoubted visual flair. An early sequence switches from tight close-ups of faces of heretics burning at the stake to a shot from the ceiling of a vast cathedral. Towards the end, Kapur cuts the murders of conspirators, Godfather-style, to choral music. His editing too has a thrilling economy. But, occasionally, the bouncy, kinetic flow of images and the shafts of light that too artfully pierce through the shrouded chambers of various castles resemble a pop video. A stark montage of corpses on a battlefield feels too art-directed really to shock. That the film avoids toppling over into preposterousness is down to its conviction and ultimate seriousness. Elizabeth's journey is a believable one, from natural sensuality to self-imposed severity. "Her majesty's body and person are no longer her own property: they belong to the state," she is told, and she adheres to the injunction, as modern statesmen no longer do. It is the thesis of Michael Hirst's perceptive screenplay that Elizabeth was not a virgin - but that she made herself one. Partly, this was a ploy to replace the Virgin Mary in the affections of her (formerly Catholic) subjects. But it was also an acknowledgement of the nature of power, its isolation and literal untouchability. "I am one most innocent in the ways of the world," the Queen professes early on. It is a profound irony of this fine and thought-provoking film that her gaining of experience lies in embracing virginity. ---- Colin Firth site with SIL mention: -- The Independent - London Date: 19980927 Interview: Shekhar Kapur - The original Elizabethan 'What was it like being Elizabeth I ?' Shekhar Kapur's new film answers the question in a spectacular, sometimes shocking, fashion. By Rosanna de Lisle PEOPLE are saying I have sullied her reputation," says Shekhar Kapur. "I read it in the press all the time." He sounds unfazed: this is not the first time he has been accused of defaming his subject. In 1994, Kapur made Bandit Queen, his "true story" about Phoolan Devi, the low-caste Indian who survived gang-rape and marriage at 11, became a bandit, and spent 10 years in jail charged with killing 22 high-caste men. Devi claimed Kapur had cheated and misrepresented her, and tried to get the film banned. She failed; and Bandit Queen established Kapur as a director of unusual vision. The dead cannot sue, so with Elizabeth, Kapur has less to fear. But pedants, particularly puritanical pedants, won't like the film at all. What's getting their goat is that Kapur has taken the hallowed notion of the "Virgin Queen", turned it on its head and twisted it. Elizabeth (played by Cate Blanchett) is first shown quite clearly consummating her affair with Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). Then, at the end of the movie, she emerges in full majesty and declares, "I have become a virgin." Kapur sees the film as telling "the story of a journey from innocence to loss of innocence". Paradoxically, he depicts it to have been a journey from sexual activity to celibacy. "The idea emerged between the screenwriter {the historian Michael Hirst} and me," he says. "Whether she was or wasn't a virgin I think is unimportant. I was interested in the idea that people made such a big thing of it. It must have gone beyond a physical fact. She made a declaration of virginity as a political statement. So then you ask, what was behind that? She had at least three very well documented relationships. No reason has ever been given for her not having consummated her virginity." Except that Elizabeth was hardly ever alone: her ladies- in-waiting slept beside her; she was proud of her purity and protective of her public image - her mother and stepmother had gone to the block for alleged adultery; she never got pregnant - and all the reliable evidence suggests that there was nothing to stop her having children. But Kapur insists that his portrayal is plausible. "History has not proved she was not a virgin. It was important for her to make a statement that she was: to get the respect of her council and parliament. There was also some kind of guilt about having tried to deny the concept of the Virgin Mary: she needed to make up for that." Kapur is not interested in factual small print. "I had to make a choice: whether I wanted the details of history or the emotions and essence of history to prevail." Instead, he paints with a broader brush. "It was almost like composing a musical score. My main concern was to tell the human story. She was a living, everyday human being - and then she became a queen. We took the icon, and went behind the icon." For all he says about disregarding literal history, the movie is linear, distilling key events and themes from the time just before Elizabeth's ascension to the throne in 1558 through to her eventual triumph over her enemies in 1572. It belts along at such a pace, you hardly have time to work out what's going on. Elizabeth is bombarded by political rebellions, religious conflicts, marriage suits, scandalous gossip, attempts on her life, and war with Scotland. But the hectic effect is intentional. "Film is drama," says Kapur. "You've only two hours, so you lie by exclusion, and try to make up for it by portraying the environment. There was so much plotting, and it was so complicated: to describe it all would have made the film very simplistic, and it would have taken away from the character arc of Elizabeth. I saw an omnipresence of deceit and conspiracy, and tried to convey that in the way the camera moved and the lighting was done. The question was: what would it have been like to have been Elizabeth? There is no logic to it - but there is an emotionality to it." For a historical film, Elizabeth is inherently dramatic, even melodramatic: an extraordinarily vivid recreation of a horrifyingly turbulent time, more La Reine Margot than A Man For All Seasons. Shot on location, steeped in atmosphere, and alternately moodily and blindingly lit, it shows up the studio stiltedness (and harsh shadows) of the much-admired 1973 BBC version of Elizabeth's life, which starred Glenda Jackson. Every age seems to throw up an Elizabeth for its time. Sarah Bernhardt played her, silently, in 1912; Flora Robson took the role in Alexander Korda's Fire Over England (1937); and Bette Davis did her twice, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and in The Virgin Queen (1955). More recently and spoofily, we've seen Miranda Richardson in Blackadder and Quentin Crisp in Orlando. Shekhar Kapur knows how lucky he's been to land Cate Blanchett. And Blanchett, who was little-known outside Australia before the release of Oscar and Lucinda, was lucky to come to his attention. It happened almost by accident. Kapur was in the London offices of Working Title, the producers of Elizabeth, who had already taken a punt in appointing a director with just one, very different film behind him. The movie was partly cast, but they had yet to find their Elizabeth. Kapur and Tim Bevan, one of the co-producers, were watching trailers when an early promo for Oscar and Lucinda came up. "The moment I saw her, I knew I had found my perfect Elizabeth," Kapur remembers. He met Blanchett in Paris, and would have given her the job there and then, if she hadn't insisted on doing a formal screen-test. His hunch has paid off - handsomely. Blanchett gives a performance that's so powerful, it might over-dominate the film - were it not supported by a cast that includes Kathy Burke (as Queen Mary Tudor), Christopher Eccleston (the Duke of Norfolk), Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), John Gielgud (the Pope) and Eric Cantona (the French ambassador). Blanchett's Elizabeth is passionate, determined, quick-witted, knowing, pragmatic and flirtatious; she's also distraught, scared and vulnerable. Kapur first shows her as Princess Elizabeth, living in relative freedom, madly loving Dudley, and standing a chance of never having to become Queen, if her half-sister Mary could only conceive. When she does ascend, there's a strong sense that her sovereignty cannot just be assumed - she was declared a bastard as a child, ruled out of the succession for most of her life, and accused by Mary of being a traitor and heretic. Elizabeth has to work to generate her majesty. Blanchett lets the private doubts flicker across the sere ne, omniscient public face. All 20th-century portraits of Elizabeth have focused on her isolation as a woman in a man's world - perhaps that's what attracts us, in the century of female emancipation, to her story. She was a woman in an age in which men considered women incapable of government. Yet Elizabeth reigned successfully for 45 years. Now, in the 1990s, the life of Elizabeth has a new resonance in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, who happened to die as Kapur's cameras started rolling. He plays down the relevance, and says he didn't think about Diana much as he was making Elizabeth. "I can see only one connection: a girl fighting to keep her joyous, loving, normal nature, whilst also being royal," he says. "The whole film is about the humanity of royalty." Cate Blanchett was more affected by the parallel. When we met in Sydney a few weeks after Elizabeth had wrapped, she told me: "It was incredible to begin filming two days after her death. The first line of the shoot was 'The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.' And it was just very odd, very odd." Blanchett knows her history, and read original sources in her research for the role. But for her, like Kapur, the human element is more important than the political. "The film is more a metaphorical thing about what it means to be queen. It's about what happens in public to the private self, and the melding of the heart and the head when there are not only political expectations but political ambitions. Shekhar has asked: what if? What if Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was in fact the love of her life? Which may or may not have been true. There are so many varied reports about her - that she was a hermaphrodite, she was a man, she was asexual, she was unable to have children - and I think it's similar to what happened to Diana." She found the role a steep challenge. "It's very hard, when you play an historical character: you know there are certain facts, but you do need to find the dramatic reason for telling the story." What was it like making the film? "It was a very tense experience. Shekhar is quite relentless; he's able to put his fingers into all pies, and he's very, very excitable. It can be quite enlightening and stimulating as an actor to work with someone who's indefatigable. He's got boundless energy - and I really don't think he slept for four months." It doesn't sound as if Kapur will be getting much sleep in the coming months either. His next project is another biopic - of another national leader, another legend. He has acquired the rights to Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. "We're calling it The Birth of a Nation: the Story of South Africa," he says. Will it be a documentary or a drama? "Very much a drama. It'll be the new Lawrence of Arabia." From Shekhar Kapur, what else would we expect? 'Elizabeth' (15) opens in London on Friday and nationwide from 23 October. ---- Speaking of Elizabeth (& Joe).... Here's a silly bit from The Guardian-Observer. Very tongue in cheek/sarcastic (as usual ;). They did one of these 'Pass Notes' things on Ralph years ago and it was about equally as silly (in fact, I think they use some of the same jokes here, tsk tsk ;-). The Guardian September 29, 1998 Pass notes: No 1284: Joseph Fiennes Age: 27. Appearance: Lovelorn Trustafarian. And is he . . . Related? Yes. Youngest brother of Ralph, second cousin to Ranulph, twin sibling of Jake, the gamekeeper. Gamekeeper? I thought they were all arty. The other five are - there's a director, a set designer, a composer . . . oh, and a couple of actors. And how does young Joe feel about being compared to the great English Patient? He's `waiting for one original journalist not to mention' his brother. Sibling .................................................................

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