Director Shekar Kapur resumes his story after the unexpected success of Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen, broody but too married to her country to take advantage of the adventurous world opened up by Clive Owen's dashing Walter Raleigh. Unwilling to lose his company entirely, Elizabeth lives her love vicariously, encouraging Owen's attentions to her lady in waiting (Abbie Cornish). But with the rain from Spain gathering on the horizon and with intrigue to quell at home, Elizabeth must forget her pain and establish her reign and secure the future of the country.
The creativity of the visuals is dazzling. Cathedrals and palaces exude power; eagle-eyed vantage points revel in some of Britain's best locations. And although the Armada battle begins with a yo-ho-ho seen-it-all-before sameness of explosions and aarghs, it suddenly whips into sublime undersea shots of cannon and debris sinking to the depths. Better even than Peter Weir's beautiful Master and Commander, The Golden Age has a poetic visual flair that matches the regal and spiritual nature of its subject.
But the script (by William - Gladiator - Nicholson and Michael Hirst), editing and soundtrack undo all the good, dragging the film dangerously close to basement TV tat and Carry On Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) has only just sealed the envelope to begin her plot before the whippity editing has her accomplices on the wrack and her head on the block. But the intrusive score blares and sweeps, underscores and overblows, every single scene.
Ultimately, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a feature-length music video with superlative cinematography. Look for an equally substantial story with depth and insight and you'll search in vain. Get the dvd, watch it with the sound off and invent your own script - the splendid visuals will still give you wings, and you can only improve on the woeful woodenness of the words.