Bombay born director Shekhar Kapur was shocked when he was offered the job of directing this $24 million dollar 16th century historical drama about Queen Elizabeth I whose 44 year reign has been called "The Golden Age of England." But Elizabeth turns out to be the bomb-- stylish, clever, and loaded with passion, romance and intrigue.
Cate Blanchett, an upcoming Australian theater actress soon to be global movie star, plays Elizabeth to perfection, Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush is a memorable Sir Francis Walsingham, and Joseph Fiennes, younger brother of The English Patient Ralph, is weak but workable as Lord Robert Dudley. Lord Richard Attenborough and Sir John Gielgud have cameo bits-- the later as the loathsome Pope.
Shekhar Kapur had never made a film outside India, although his 1994 film, The Bandit Queen, a female Robin Hood like true story of the living legend Phoolan Devi, was released around the world to mostly admirable reviews. He says the film is about "the choices we make." "This is basically the dilemma Elizabeth faces as a very young person and what she has to do to survive," Kapur continues. "Does she go on being a loving, joyous, caring, tactical human being, or does she cut that out and become an image -- a ruthless, powerful monarch, but, inside, just a shell?"
Kapur turns out to have been a very wise choice. Not only did he turn a historical figure into a visceral character that modern moviegoers would appreciate, he also made a lavish period movie for less than half of what most contemporary American films cost.
Elizabeth received excellent reviews at the Venice International Film Festival, and favorable nods in the first round of critical fire. Although the LA WEEKLY described the movie as "Bollywood meets The Godfather," first rate direction and performances, lavish scenery, and an intriguing story line will probably result in the film being a critical and financial hit. It's hard to imagine the film being shunned in the Oscar race, and that would extend the theatrical run and shelf life as a video considerably.
If Michael Hirst's witty script turns out to be a hit, Kapur will make history; he'll be the first Indian director with a truly mainstream hit. Trade experts agree that films about British royalty do not usually perform well, but there is considerable expectation that Kapur's film could prove to be an exception. The film, which cost (along with print and publicity) $30 million, has to gross at least $65 million in theater and video release before it breaks even. Kapur's next film, based on the autobiography of the South African leader, Mandela, is budgeted at $50 million, and is being produced by Anant Singh, the most prominent movie-maker in South Africa.
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