Universal // 1998 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // November 29th, 2007
Declared illegitimate aged 3. Tried for treason aged 21. Crowned Queen aged 25.
"To be a King and wear a crown is a thing more pleasant to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it. You may have many a wiser prince sitting in this seat, but you never have had, or shall have, and who loves you better." -- Elizabeth I, Throne Speech to the English people, 1601
Elizabeth is the film that brought Cate Blanchett to the world's attention in the title role of Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Throw in some treachery, sex, and violence, and round out the cast with an assortment of some of the greatest British actors of our time, and there you have it, the story behind England's "virgin queen."
After the death of her Roman Catholic half-sister Mary I of England from cancer in 1558, Protestant Elizabeth I succeeded the throne of England. Previously imprisoned for supposed conspiracy against her half sister, Elizabeth is freed for her coronation. Amid conspirators seeking her throne or her throat and suitors seeking her hand, Elizabeth successfully navigates the treacherous waters to secure her reign and initiate a time of cultural and literary revival that became known as the Golden Age or Elizabethan era, in her honor.
As a Canadian and a proud member of the British Commonwealth, I have direct ties back through my family to British soil. Despite the feeling of many that monarchies are archaic remnants of a history we have long since left behind, I feel proud to be part of a strong democracy that also happens to still have a Queen presiding over it. I studied English and medieval history in university and was fascinated to learn the historic relationships between many of Europe's monarchies, and the political jockeying and interrelationships that occurred over hundreds of years.
Elizabeth closely examines a pivotal point in English history from an insider's perspective. Sure, the filmmakers have taken some liberties with some of the characterizations and story elements, but at its core, this is a story based largely on historical accuracy. When you take a solid script and compelling story, then add A-list British actors like Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), Christopher Eccleston (Duke of Norfolk), Joseph Fiennes (Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester), Sir John Gielgud (in his final screen performance as The Pope), and surprisingly even soccer team Manchester United's striker Eric Cantona (Monsieur de Foix), it's no wonder the film was nominated for many awards and won a Best Actress Oscar for Cate Blanchett.
I'm fairly new to the HD world, as I recently upgraded our home theater projector to a Sanyo Z5 and upgraded our player to a Toshiba A2. My first purchase was Transformers and although I knew the difference would be noticeable, I was unprepared for the stunning audio/visual presentation Dreamworks delivered on that release. Although Transformers set the bar very high, I'm still approaching every new HD-DVD release with an open and objective mind.
If you've seen the original DVD release of Elizabeth, you'll likely agree the film looked fantastic, from the vibrant colors and solid blacks, to the solid audio presentation. I'm sad to say this new HD-DVD release of Elizabeth was a bit of a disappointment. There are some truly stunning scenes in this version; for example, the outdoor scenes nearly jump off the screen with stunning clarity, resolution and depth. However, this is not the case throughout the entire film, as the image was soft at times, with muted colors, and black levels were never very impressive. The inconsistency of the image was somewhat disappointing to be sure, especially given cinematographer Remi Adefarasin's beautiful setups and lighting choices. As a dramatic dialogue-driven film, the audio presentation is not overly dynamic throughout the entire film, but there is some occasional use of the surround channels and the music and dialogue always remain well balanced. Both the TrueHD and 5.1 soundtracks deliver nicely, with no clear winner between the two.
On the extras front, I was very surprised to discover that several of the supplements included with the original DVD release are conspicuously absent. The director's commentary, "The Making of Elizabeth," "Elizabeth Featurette," and the trailer are all included on the HD-DVD release, but for some reason, the "Cast and Crew Biographies" and "Photo Gallery" aren't included on this new release. Also, the supplements that have been retained from the original release all max out at 480i, leaving them looking pretty weak. The one bright point is that the trailer for Elizabeth: The Golden Age is included, and I just about ran out and bought tickets right after the trailer finished.
Another missed opportunity on both the SD and HD-DVD releases of Elizabeth, aside from the inconsistent video quality, is the lack of a biography or any other historical documentary. Elizabeth I's reign was a turning point in English history that we're still feeling the echoes of in the modern era (anyone heard of William Shakespeare?), so it would have been nice to have a documentary to provide a fully fleshed-out historical perspective on Elizabeth's reign and lasting impact.
There is little in the historical record to shed any light on Elizabeth's succession to the throne or her early years as a monarch, so Elizabeth provides an educated guess at what that time might have been like, and what the historically iconic ruler was like as a young and unsure girl. Although there are some missed opportunities supplements-wise, Elizabeth is a decent addition to your HD-DVD library. Yes, the HD version is a noticeable step above the standard definition release, but it's certainly not up to the quality one would expect, especially on the video side.
They must have done something right with Elizabeth, because Elizabeth: The Golden Age, for all intents and purposes is a sequel that picks up where the first film left off, and made a royal appearance in theaters in October 2007. Her majesty is free to go and all traitors are to be burned at the stake!
Review content copyright © 2007 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* "The Making of Elizabeth"
* "Elizabeth Featurette"
* Elizabeth: The Golden Age Official Site