Nearly a decade after Cate Blanchett drew the attention of audiences and critics alike with ELIZABETH, the Oscar-winning actress returns to the role of the Virgin Queen. Though the protestant ruler has been on the throne for decades in 1585, Elizabeth I's reign is still under attack from both inside her country and from the continent. Her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), carries the favour of the nation's Catholics as she schemes for the throne from prison, while Spain's King Philip II (Jordi Molla) plots an invasion with the power of his famous armada. But Elizabeth is also concerned with the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), a charming pirate and adventurer. Unable to reconcile her feelings with her crown, she encourages Bess (Abbie Cornish), her beloved lady-in-waiting, to pursue a relationship with Raleigh.
Nine years haven't dulled Blanchett's ability to play this--or any other--character with an impressive range of fire and tenderness. Her chemistry with the infinitely watchable Owen is one of the film's highlights. As in ELIZABETH, director Shekhar Kapur doesn't restrict himself from using artfully constructed shots that aren't normally used in period dramas. It's a modern retelling of history, and Kapur and his director of photograpy, Remi Adefarasin, aren't content to let the film have the standard look of many films in the genre. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne follows the same logic, creating stunning dresses for Elizabeth that draw inspiration both from modernity and the time period. If Blanchett weren't such a gifted actress, the gorgeous costumes might threaten to overtake her as the star of the film.