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Elizabeth: Special Edition

Imagine that Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola had an odd interest in Tudor-era British politics. Then give the disc of Elizabeth a spin to see what the results might be. Directed by Shekhar Kapur with the screenplay by Michael Hirst, Elizabeth doesn't attempt to be a definitive account of the English monarch's 45-year reign, but instead focuses only upon the years directly following her ascension, as the young, naive Queen learns that her hold on the crown is only tenuous at best whilst England is barely a world power, has only a small standing army, and is wracked by a weak economy and religious fragmentation. As a history lesson, Elizabeth reminds us that, even in the age of kings and queens, the rights of monarchs to their thrones were rarely guaranteed (especially in 16th-century Britain), and always depended upon political support from various factions. It's a little-explored aspect of history for a film to undertake, and the pre-democracy politics of Elizabeth are fascinating. As a film in and of itself, Elizabeth wastes little expense, gathering an excellent group of actors for the leading roles, in addition to the much-discussed location shoots, costuming, and art direction, which are uniformly impressive. Cate Blanchett, as the Virgin Queen, earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, which effortlessly coalesces the fears and frustrations of the young monarch with her ever-growing sense of power. Joseph Fiennes, Christopher Eccleston, and Richard Attenborough are effective as English Lords with competing agendas, and Geoffrey Rush as Walsingham — Elizabeth's only protector who is free of political interests — steals every scene he has, able to summon up a political ruthlessness that his Queen has yet to learn or understand. It is only because the subject matter is so deep — that the entire story of the Tudor monarchy is filled with so many fascinating historical details — that Elizabeth, for all of its virtues, bites off a little more than it can chew. At times, pivotal characters seem rushed onto the stage, only to be removed and never heard from again. Other moments of the film feels somewhat disjointed, as if this was supposed to be a three-hour film that was unnecessarily cut down to two. But these few defects only warrant a second viewing, which will be richer than the first. Taken as a whole, Elizabeth is one of the most remarkable historical dramas made in many years. Great transfer, DD 5.1. Special Edition extras include a 30-minute "making-of" documentary, a promotional featurette, trailers, and a photo gallery.

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