With a dream cast, a fascinating subject, and a budget larger than a pirate's booty, this film could have been great. But the chance is missed.
(Pros:) The cast is definitely the film's biggest asset. Cate Blanchett is incredibly brilliant even at times that the script fails to provide her with a worthy line. Her powerful performance is utterly captivating. Clive Owen's Walter Raleigh is as dashing as a man can be. As the man who charmed the Queen out of her heart and wits and dared to tell her not to act like a fool, Owen's Raleigh is daring at times, vulnerable at others, but always compelling and spectacular. Geoffrey Rush makes the best out of the very little that he's given to work with and Abbie Cornish and Samantha Morton are each great in their parts.
It's also worth a mention that the costumes and the locations are spectacular, paired with a few moments of good story-telling (only if those moments would last all through the film) they make a few absolutely extraordinary scenes. Another great characteristic of this film is it's subtlety, the emotions that are there yet not talked about, the wishes, feelings, disappointments, desires, and fears that are only hinted are the best parts of an otherwise disappointing story-telling.
(Cons:) Sloppy editing, campy scenes, and poor writing are what mostly hurts the film. Unfortunately the film's precious time is spent on side-stories that could have easily been discarded, and consequentially, not enough time is spent on the development of the main story. Everything that happens after Sir Walter meets Elizabeth seems forced. Vague at times, the film seems to be in rush to hit certain notes at certain times. Elizabeth meets Walter and a few lines later she's mad about him, so is Bess and so on. The audience is not given the chance to feel or take in what's really happening, not even enough time to get to know the characters let alone feel what they are going through. At times, it seemed as though many of the scenes were cut short in the editing room and had lost their essence in the process. (If that's the case, lets hope the DVD includes the director's cut.)
The film could have benefited from more climax and action (the battle is barely touched), (other than a few great scenes) most of the story is told through conversations in closed areas. More than anything, the writers leaned on poetic lines to deliver their story. Also, for all it's subtlety, the film takes sides so obviously that it hurts any chances it had at reaching some level of realism or fairness. For instance, not only Phillip of Spain is utterly evil, he's one ridiculous, petty, dim character.
Overall, the cast certainly makes the experience worthwhile, and as long as one does not expect absolute greatness or historical accuracy, this film can be great entertainment for most.
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