16th century, costume in cinema

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Just got back from seeing Elizabeth: The Golden Age – and you know I’ve gotta spew! I’ll post a condensed version of this review in my costume reviews. Just for reference, anyone who’s read my review of the first Elizabeth knows that I’m not one of those haters. So, what did I think of EGA?

On the one hand, I completely enjoyed it. Why? Because I love seeing historical eras brought to life in front of me, and I particularly love Elizabeth I. You can quibble with me, but wow, does Cate Blanchett inhabit that role. She brings an amazing range of emotions to the character – regal, imperious, enticing, courageous, but also doubting, conflicted, hemmed in. Plus, I love her look – altho it’s not (obv.) exactly EI’s same face, I love that she has a sort of handsomeness, rather than pretty (which EI was certainly not). I could watch her all day! Watching her emote as EI gave me chills in a couple of places – when she tells the Spanish ambassador that she has a hurricane in her that will strip Spain bare, and the Tilbury speech (well, the “adapted” version that the screenwriters came up with).

I thought this film did a better job with locations – not everything looked like it was taking place in a cathedral. Plus Clive Owen (le SIGH!) worked for me so much more than whiny Joesph Fiennes (who got no pitter pat from me).

What didn’t work? Let’s start with Mary Queen of Scots (an historical figure who I have no patience for – the woman was a ninny). Weird casting of tiny, interesting-looking Samantha Morton in the role of a 6′ (yay!) gorgeous queen. As soon as she busted out with a Scottish accent (yes, I know that’s what the average mall-goer would expect, but hi, she was raised for most of her life in France) I started giggling. And WTF WAS SHE WEARING? I swear to god, wow. Most of the film she’s in this embroidered blue taffeta dress that has cording/ropes sewn into the skirt (no, not a corded petticoat – the skirt itself is corded). Reminded me of that early Spanish painting of a woman in a corded skirt. And her hair! Her hair! But the best was when she went to be beheaded – she shows up in a very symbolic black cape, with her hair suddenly done all period-like; then she takes off her symbolic black cape to reveal her Symbolic Red Dress which was some kind of weird, bastard, Ren Faire “Hey Look Ma It’s Sorta Ye Olde Timey!” gathered chemise dress with off-the-shoulder neckline (I swear there was elastic in that neckline). WTF, I ask you?

Other costumes were okay. For some reason, all the white dresses on Elizabeth worked for me; I loved the fabric in her green with envy dress. And OH MY GOD, they had her in a really great version of the effigy corset (the corset made for her effigy in the very early 17th c. [she died in 1603]). And Cate looked FAAABULOUS in her Armor (altho I doubt she really wore something of that nature? You tell me).

But the rest of the dresses – eh. Oh sure, they were all sumptuous, and they ranged from kinda-period to not-at-all period. But since it didn’t appear that they varied from period styles for an actual artistic reason, why not put everyone in actual period styles? I can accept changes for artistic reasons (see: Marie Antoinette). But if you don’t have a point, then why bother? And I don’t buy this whole “treat it like science fiction” thing from director Kapur; if it’s science fiction, why aren’t they running around in unitards? Oh, the feathers – very distracting, very silly.

Other things that bugged me included the comically villainous, Catholicism-screwed-me-up! King Philip; Sir Walter Raleigh’s manly heroics against the Armada; the rewriting of the Armada battle (no, the English didn’t burn all their ships; they burned one ship, the Spanish panicked and pulled up anchor, went over towards Ireland where a hurricane hit them and scattered them) – although the Armada battle as depicted (sorry if I’ve missed the official name) did make for exciting cinema. More giggles from Bess Throckmorton running around castles/town at night with her hair down and a cape and Raleigh scolding Elizabeth when she yells at Bess. The English Catholics plot, which just felt heavy handed and very School of Bad Acting.

But – and these are big buts! For me, seeing Elizabeth and the period brought to the screen was fabulous. Seeing Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth was even more fabulous. Any chance to stare at Clive Owen’s manly manliness is fabulous. I was entertained, I’ll probably see it again on the big screen, and I’ll probably buy the DVD. Scorn me if you will!

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  • Reply Andrew October 13, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Great review, I’m seeing it tomorrow, can’t wait! About the armor, in actuality Elizabeth wore a breastplate over her riding habit and carried a sword. I thought the full armor thing was kinda weird.

  • Reply Shelby October 13, 2007 at 7:22 am

    I’m seeing it tomorrow as well. There’s interesting reading on the movie’s site. It’s got some insights into the ideas behind the costumes, very enlightening. As Alexandra Bryne goes, she blows my mind. Maybe it’s not accurate, but boy howdy is it gorgeous.

  • Reply Quervin October 13, 2007 at 7:46 am

    I’m not an expert in this period – but how are the outfits not period? I totally pointed out to a friend that the red dress that Mary wears is SOOO not period, but the other dresses looked (to my untrained eye) close enough.

  • Reply Katherine October 13, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    According to wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt!):

    “The executioners and her two servants helped remove a black outer gown, two petticoats, and her corset to reveal a deep red chemise—the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church.”


    Bet I can guess which film y’all are frock-flicking! ;-)

  • Reply Trystan L. Bass October 13, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Katherine, re: MQoS’s execution outfit, it was a dark red (more like a modern red-brown-russet) petticoat, not a full dress or chemise, accd. to several period accounts, & there’s much debate as to whether it was really like the ‘Catholic color of martyrdom.’ Yes, I’m a huge fan & Kendra & I have had wee arguments about her ;-)

    Poo, now I wish I’d tried harder to see E2:GA last night! But I was just too beat from travel this week. Must see it soon.

    Heard an interview w/the director on NPR this morning — said he’s all about “mythology” not history.

  • Reply wenz October 14, 2007 at 11:49 am

    La Morton gives me the irrits at times. anywhoo, back on topic, I love Cate as E1, she’s such a great actress and makes E1 a convincing woman. At least in the first film as I haven’t seen this yet. A good DF has to remind me that if a costume is romantic (in a feminine, pretty way) then that’s what 99% of viewers care about. Cos the unfamiliarity they have with the real thing makes it look ugly-unattractive, rather than ugly-attractive. Have I stopped making sense by now?

  • Reply Frances October 14, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    I don’t know if I can bear to see this movie. The first one had me seething because of how fast and loose they played with history. And to hear they re-wrote the TIlbury speech? EXCUSE ME? I can hear my teeth grinding already.

    And, Kendra, I agree with you about MQoS. Ninny puts it kindly.

  • Reply Holly October 16, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    will probably get around to seeing movie eventually, since Cate is one of my Goddesses. Meantime, enjoying the thoroughly lickable pictures of Clive (pauses to wipe off screen)… and I wish I could round up some armour for this Halloween. Queen Bess looks like some kind of avenging archangel in that armor.

  • Reply Anonymous October 17, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Was Mary really 6 feet tall? I realize this isn’t really in keeping with the rest of the comments in the thread, but as another girl who’s around that height, Kendra, I just had to ask!

  • Reply Kendra October 17, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    She was! 6’! And I believe commented upon for being tall, but not considered a freak – yay, I CAN go back in time!

  • Reply Audrey October 18, 2007 at 2:55 am

    Great review! Personally I loved how stylized the costumes were. One must keep in mind that it is very simple to just reproduce a period, but that the job of the costume designer is to bring a new perspective to the period depending on the film. I felt the costumes had a very modern design sensibility; the men’s clothing was thick with layers and texture. The gown were rich with color and the lines were streamlined. I will definetly be making some asap!

  • Reply Kate November 18, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    There’s a piece on these costumes in the Dec issue of British Vogue – most of them are apparently inspired by early 20th century clothes (furrreal!). I quote: “In a wonderfully creative twist, she [Alexandra Byrne] looked to Cristobal Balenciaga for inspiration for The Golden Age. In particular, she was stirred by a costume the couturier designed for actress Alice Cocea in 1940, which was in turn inspired by a portrait of the Spanish queen Isabel de Valois by Oleo de Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Other garments reference Christian Dior: “La Cigale” of 1952, for instance, becomes a damask dress Elizabeth wears at her most vulnerable, during the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; while a Lanvin evening dress of 1925 is reinterpreted as a pale-blue taffeta gown embroidered in an Elizabethan floral pattern with Swarovski crystal and gold thread.”

    I can scan the whole article in if you’re interested…

    Kate in England

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