• Warning: Spoilers
    If nothing else, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) is an instructive case study in the failure of most sequels to live up to the successes of their progenitors. The original Kate Blanchett Elizabeth (1998) was one of the finest historical dramas of the last 20 years. In addition to the usual virtues of well-mounted period dramas (e.g. sumptuous costuming, make-up, and set-design), it offered a fresh point of view on familiar historical/biographical material, a sparkling script filled with memorable lines, secondary characters that burned themselves onto the screen, and understated but powerful cinematography and score. By contrast, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, while in some respects even more visually sumptuous than its predecessor, is over-produced, over-acted, and over-blown.

    The problems with this sequel start at the core: a screenplay that lacks originality and wit. Whereas the first film brimmed with quotable lines like "I am no man's Elizabeth" and "The dead have no titles," not a single phrase from the sequel sticks to mind. Even worse, its lack of imagination is compounded by systematic cannibalizing of key dramatic situations in the original script and by the regurgitation of dialog - minus the poetry and rhythms of the original language. When poor Kate Blanchett winced at the clip of her performance at this year's Oscar ceremony, it wasn't from false modesty. As a great actress, she recognizes unconvincing bluster when she sees and hears it. That she received a best actress nomination for this Elizabeth was a clear case of an Academy make-up call for not having given her the award when she really deserved it.

    In addition to a wonderfully realized protagonist, the first film developed a rich cast of secondary characters like Sir Richard Attenborough's Lord Cecil and Geoffrey Rush's chilling but fascinating Sir Walsingham, Elizabeth's chief of security. In The Golden Age Walsingham returns as a poor shadow of himself, little more than a stooped and aging whipping boy for Elizabeth's frequent shrill tirades. To experience the trashing of this wonderful character (and actor) was emotionally painful. The sequel also lacked the compelling villain supplied by Christopher Eccleston's Norfolk in the original. In The Golden Age the villain's role is filled instead by Philip, King of Spain, but the cutaways to his religion-inspired vendetta against Elizabeth are distant emotionally as well as geographically, and the physical stereotyping of all the Spanish characters is embarrassing. Even the attempted assassination of Elizabeth, one of the most obviously recycled scenes, pales in the sequel. In the original we get the spooky, hood-clad specter of a pre-Bond Daniel Craig pursuing the Queen on behalf of the Pope (a wonderful cameo by the legendary Sir John Gielgud), while here we get a shaky nondescript youth pointing and firing a pistol at point blank range and either missing or forgetting to put a bullet in the gun. Who knows (or cares) which? On a positive note, Clive Owen's presence as Sir Walter Raleigh is The Golden Age's most interesting addition - but while Owen cuts a fine, convincing figure in 16th century garb, his relationship with Elizabeth is far less interesting and less satisfying than the one provided by Joseph Fiennes as the youthful Elizabeth's first love, Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.

    Futilely attempting to compensate for a weakly-written script, The Golden Age offers up lingering, protracted visuals, one of the most overbearing musical scores in contemporary cinema, and - naturally these days - special effects galore. Unfortunately, the detailed CG rendering of the Spanish Armada's destruction succeeds less as drama than as an emblem of a Hollywood big budget vessel crashing and sinking under its own rudderless bulk.