Director Shekhar Kapur’s gracious reconstruction of Elizabeth I’s rollercoaster ascent — mad Mary Tudor declared her treasonous at 21; she became queen after Mary’s death at 25 — revels in the religious gossip of the period. In that way, it’s a pop history project with pretty sets, finely-wrought dialogue, and brand-name actors playing known figures (Geoffrey Rush as Walsingham; Joseph Fiennes as Robert Dudley; Richard Attenborough as William Cecil; and, inevitably, John Gielgud — as the pope, no less.)
But the names exist only to serve Elizabeth, and Cate Blanchett demonstrates the mettle that makes her consistently top-tier. She shivers between passion and remoteness, particularly with putative lover Dudley. The French take a typically British beating, with Fanny Ardant behaving outrageously as Mary of Guise. Kapur’s movie limps to the finish line, but Blanchett doesn’t limp at all. (Interesting to contrast Blanchett’s performance with that of Helen Mirren, called on to do the 20th-century Windsor Elizabeth in Stephen Frears’ “The Queen”).