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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/9/99

1998 (1999) - Gramercy/Polygram (Polygram)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Elizabeth Film Ratings: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/A

Specs and Features

124 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.66:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:44, in chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, The Making of Elizabeth documentary, production featurette, full-length audio commentary with director Shekhar Kapur, 2 theatrical trailers, photo gallery, cast & crew bios, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: French & Spanish, Close Captioned

Queen Elizabeth I of England was known as "the virgin queen", as she never married in her lifetime. The daughter of King Henry VIII by a consort (Anne Boleyn), she was 25 years old when she became Queen, and ruled England for 44 years, until age 69. When she came to power, her country was in political and economic ruin. When she died, England had become the richest country in the whole of Europe.

Elizabeth the film is not so much the story of a Queen, but rather the making of one. How did a 25 year old woman manage to survive the dangers inherent in becoming the ruler of England, in such an overwhelmingly male-dominated place and time? The story of Elizabeth, is that of a naive but strong young woman, facing an emotional forge, slowly closing off her emotions, and parts of her personality, for the sake of her political survival. At the end of the film, we are left with the image history knows so well - that of a cool and impassionate monarch, ruthless in her devotion to her country.

Indian-born director Shekhar Kapur gives us a singularly unique perspective on this historical figure, managing to find the humanity in Elizabeth - the strength, and tragedy, in her story of survival. How different would this film have been in the hands of an English director? Previous tellings of this Queen's story have tended to focus on her later reign - the height of her power. But this look at Elizabeth dares to examine the human side of this woman - her emotions, strength and vulnerabilities - and is thereby far more satisfying.

Cate Blanchett reveals herself to be an actress of amazing talent as the title character. Her tremendous emotional range, and ability to lose herself in a role, is on display here for all to see. She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for this performance, and was nominated for an Oscar as well, and she absolutely deserved such honors for her work. Joseph Finnes (better known for Shakespeare in Love) also displays his talent in this film, as the Earl of Leicester, the nobleman Elizabeth loves, but is not destined to share her life with. And Geoffrey Rush gives one of the best performances of his already stellar career, as Walsingham, Elizabeth's assigned protector - a ruthless master spy and assassin, who would do any cold-blooded act for Queen and country. There is a great moment, near the end of the film, where Elizabeth finally realizes that she must share her life and love with no man, in order to cement the devotion of her people, and secure her crown. Walsingham starts to move to comfort her, and even starts to raise his hand towards her, but stops. Rush gives his character great depth, revealing him to be ruthless, but not quite completely heartless. All around, the performances in this film are superb.

Surprisingly, Polygram has chosen not to label this DVD as a special edition, for that is surely what it is. The disc boasts good (but just good) anamorphic widescreen picture quality. The colors are true, and there's tremendous range of contrast, with good deep blacks. But the picture isn't quite as clear as it should be - I noticed definite grain, and occasional softness. I would even say the picture looks slightly blotchy from time to time, but not from MPEG 2 digital artifacting - this looks like a print issue to me. Still, the picture is generally fine overall. And, just as a side note, I had a heck of a hard time finding the RSDL layer switch on this disc. It is so well done on this disc, that 8 times out of 10, there was NO visible pause on my Sony 7700! I'm not kidding - it's that well hidden. Very nicely done.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is very clear and natural, with dialogue well mixed, and nice use of the rear channels to create ambience. This is a film with many scenes taking place in stone chambers, or high-ceilinged cathedrals, and you'll hear the locations reinforced by the surround sound. My only real complaint, is that there's very little bass in the mix, which I suppose is nitpicking - this isn't the kind of film that's likely to overtax your subwoofer.

As for extras, Elizabeth has plenty. You get an interesting, full-length director's commentary with Kapur. He's reserved, but he has a very specific approach to his work, and you'll get a definite sense of his talent and craftsmanship as you listen. A good behind-the-scenes documentary is also included, which runs well over 20 minutes in length, as is a separate, 5 minute featurette. The film's theatrical and teaser trailers are available here, along with cast and crew biographies, and a gallery of some 30-plus production photographs. And the menu screens are very tastefully done - simple, but with animation and music that enhances the experience and navigation of the material on the disc. I have but one sticking point with this DVD - I could have done just fine without the Macrovision trailer that appears when you first put the disc in your player. Whose idea was that, anyway? A minor complaint, but still - come on, here...

Elizabeth is an magnificent achievement, and is certainly one of the best films of 1998. It is a powerful, moving and tragic tale, featuring some of the finest acting you will ever see, by performers new and old. And this DVD captures the experience of Elizabeth beautifully, with very good quality, and plenty of supplemental material to enhance your appreciation of the film. Definitely not to be missed.

Bill Hunt
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