By Fr. George Welzbacher
October 21, 2007
Forget the Hollywood of the 1960s with its films like A Man for all Seasons and The Sound of Music or the Hollywood of the 1940s with movies like Going My Way. The Hollywood of more recent decades is friend neither to the Christian faith nor most particularly to the Catholic Church. Witness the threats made to Mel Gibson not so very long ago that if he produced the film The Passion of the Christ, he would never work in Hollywood again. And witness the rating assigned to the majority of films today: "R: for nudity, sexual situations, and profanity", the profanity being more often than not the contemptuous abuse of the name of Jesus Christ. As for anti-Catholicism, a belittling depiction of a Catholic priest whenever the script calls for a priest's appearance is today almost taken for granted, even if once in a blue moon a sympathetic film like Blackrobe or The Mission startles us with its breaking of the rule. And from time to time there is even an up-front assault directly on the Catholic faith as in the film entitled Dogma, Bob and Harvey Weinstein's mockery of the Church and its teachings with an assist from Matt Damon and Ben Affieck early in their careers.
In this department the worst is yet to come. A few weeks from now, on December 7th, a film entitled The Golden Compass will appear on the nation's screens. It's the cinematic version of a trilogy of novels that, masquerading as a fantasy along the lines of Lord of the Rings, is an atheistic attack on all religion but is especially an attack on the Catholic Church.
This hostility to the Christian faith draws little comment in most movie reviews, probably because the reviewers themselves more often than not are committed secularists and are either deaf to any and every overtone involving religion or are actually sympathetic to the discrediting of religious faith. In this regard to his considerable credit Colin Covert; the chief film reviewer for The Star Tribune, in his review last Friday, October 12th, of the just released Elizabeth: the Golden Age, showed himself to be an exception, constrained by a sense of fairness to point out for the multitudes of moviegoers with little knowledge of history that the movie's presentation of 16th century English history is a ludicrous cartoon.
I haven't seen the film myself, but I have seen the previews. The anti-Catholicism noted by Mr. Covert is not greatly emphasized there. The focus in the previews is on preoccupations rather less elevated than those that are the chief concern of theology. But I was dismayed to see Cate Blanchett, whose acting style is usually so elegant and subtle, howling her lines as Elizabeth the First like Hamlet's "town-crier", obviously at the insistence of the director.
The sad thing is that the majority of those who see the film will probably take its distortion of history for cash.
Accordingly, may I share with you, as a corrective at least on the local scene, Mr. Covert's take on a film extravaganza designed first and foremost to appeal to prurience but with a heavy dose of bigotry on the side.
* * * * *
A Royal Delight
By Colin Covert
History majors will wish that "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" came with accuracy disclaimers, and comparative-religion majors might wince at the film's ugly anti-Catholic imagery (did heavenly choirs really sing as rosary beads sank beneath the sea during the defeat of the Spanish Armada?). But as a pseudo- historical fable, a romantic triangle and a blood-and thunder melodrama, the film can't be faulted. It's a hundredweight of cheap thrills wrapped in gold brocade.
The story opens with Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) declaring that despite the determination of dastardly Spanish King Philip (Jordi Motia) to impose Catholicism on the half of the English populace that rejected it, her kingdom would never punish its citizens for their beliefs. In fact, during her reign, for a papist to convert a Protestant was high treason, carrying a death sentence. The Spanish Inquisition was plenty bad, but director Shakhar Kapur fears we won't get the idea unless he paints 16th-century England as an oasis of religious tolerance.
Still, bogus history can make a crackling good adventure yam, and Kapur piles on the treachery and romance. Samanth Morton as Mary Stuart, Elizabeth's rival for the throne, acts inbred and twitchy; Rhys lfans plays a Jesuit conspirator with lewd gusto, and Molla affects a villainous limp. Elizabeth's adviser Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush in pious fuddy-duddy mode) helps her fend off assassination plots, while holding Philip at bay by entertaining marriage proposals from politically powerful suitors.
But the virgin Queen's heart only fluttersfor dashing Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, who deserves an Oscar for keeping a straightface). No sooner does he drape his cape across a puddle than Elizabeth assigns her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess (Abbie Cornish), to keep company with Raleigh, the better to keep an eye on the intriguing rogue. He wants Elizabeth to fund his colony in the New World; she feels a dizzying susceptibility to his charm, and Bess, unrestrained by court decorum. makes a beeline into his arms.
Blanchett, with her gift for looking beautiful in a distinguished way, gets wonderfully lavish costumes. There are neck ruffs and trains that would look right at home in Italian Vogue, and late in the story Elizabeth rallies her army in body-hugging an-nor that resembles the Silver Surfer.
The big sea-battle finale is staged like the climax of a summer blockbuster, as Raleigh stuffs .his ship with gunpowder, steers it into the enemy fleet, sets it afire and swings to safety on a rope before the explosion. The happily-ever-after end title declares that Elizabeth led her nation into a period of peace and prosperity; actually, it was heading toward civil war.
This isn't historical fabrication, it's mutilation. But, for all its lapses, this is probably the liveliest, most vibrant Elizabethan production since Baz Luhrrnann's "Romeo + Juliet."....