The Golden Age finds Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) facing bloodlust for her throne and familial betrayal. Growing keenly aware of the changing religious and political tides of late 16th century Europe, Elizabeth finds her rule openly challenged by the Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla)--with his powerful army and sea-dominating armada--determined to restore England to Catholicism. Preparing to go to war to defend her empire, Elizabeth struggles to balance ancient royal duties with an unexpected vulnerability in her love for the newly met Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). But he remains forbidden for a queen who has sworn body and soul to her country. Unable and unwilling to pursue her love, Elizabeth encourages her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), to befriend Raleigh to keep him near. But this strategy forces Elizabeth to observe their growing intimacy. As she charts her course abroad, her trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), continues his masterful puppetry of Elizabeth's court at home--and her campaign to solidify absolute power. Through an intricate spy network, Walsingham uncovers an assassination plot that could topple the throne. But as he unmasks traitors that may include Elizabeth's own cousin Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton), he unknowingly sets England up for destruction.
Great movie. No question about it. Historically the film remains accurate on most of the larger topics involved and the few liberties that are taken involve the speculation of relationships, how intricately they were intertwined and, of course, the conversations that lead to certain decisions. As with any historical drama, there really is no way of ever knowing what exactly was said, so it's these liberties that can really make things interesting.
Cate Blanchett is amazing, again, as Elizabeth and this time she plays the part as a woman who has grown into her role as leader of an empire and has developed the confidence to match her intelligence. Geoffrey Rush's aging Walsingham is as shrewd in watching the Queen's back as he was in the first film although, having come into her own, she doesn't require as much guidance from him as she once did. And Clive Owen is perfectly cast as Raleigh: he easily looks the part of privateer and handles himself accordingly and he is surprisingly capable of embodying the adventurous desire as well as being able to verbally convey a sense of wonder in the simple descriptions of a journey.
Even if period piece dramas are not your cup of tea, as it were, in my opinion there is still enough intrigue and action to hold your attention. The settings are spectacular, the dialog is natural and explanatory and the overall direction is superb. There are actually times that, because of the camera placement, I actually felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation and at other times I found myself wondering how the hell they achieved a particular shot. Shekhar Kapur directed this film as well as the previous Elizabeth so if you've seen Elizabeth, you're already somewhat familiar with the camera angles and look of the shots and while having seen the prior Elizabeth is not a prerequisite for seeing The Golden Age, doing so will greatly increase the overall feel of the movie and add an extra level to the scope of the story. I actually re-watched Elizabeth the night before I saw The Golden Age and it felt like an excellent long movie with an intermission. But that's just me.