Cate Blanchett reprises her role as 16th Century Virgin Queen Elizabeth I in director Shekhar Kapur's sequel of sorts to Elizabeth (1998), which I can't recall if it made it to the local screens. However the DVD of Elizabeth was recently released here, but you need not have watched that movie because the events that transpire here are after the fact of her ascension to the Throne of England, and you need not be a history buff in order to get up to speed on the events that led up to the opening of the movie. Of course it does help a bit, so if you're choosing not to approach this blind, then you can pop over to Wikipedia for a quick synopsis.
The movie begins with the threat of war with Spain looming on the horizon. Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla), a devout Catholic, wants to wage holy war against England, of course to expand his empire, but under the guise of Religion, since Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is a Protestant. And to do so requires a reason to send his Armada across the English Channel, which involves making calculated political steps, counting upon those who are Catholics, and to throw his weight behind the supposed Queen in exile / imprisonment Mary of Scots (played by Samantha Morton) - here's where you'll probably need some background information to understand the intricacies of the English Mornarchy, in no part made even more complicated since Henry VIII was ruler before his, giving the family tree a healthy boost in the number of branches.
The focus however, is still set on Elizabeth, as she goes about trying to deflect questions about her fertility, virginity, and singlehood (there's actually a good reason to why she stays single, not that she's unattractive, or have a lack of suitors). It's like a tale of two halves, where the beginning involves dalliances with her lack of love life, setting the stage for a triangle between herself, her favourite hand maiden Elizabeth Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish, whom the gossip mags credited for coming in between Ryan Phillipe and Resse Witherspoon), and suave pirate Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who charms them with his tales of the high seas and the finding of the new world. Later to be Sir Walter Raleigh, his initial audience with the Queen was for funding his exploits, but later with Cupid's arrow, it becomes pretty much muddled with affairs of the heart, as we learn of the social impossibility between the Queen and the pirate, and the countless protocols that come with privileged women.
Those who were expecting spectacular battle scenes, especially when the trailers have Elizabeth in full armour, rousing her troops, will be sorely disappointed, because history had already decided the outcome of the battle. Moreover, as far as naval warfare go involving ships with sails, Pirates of the Caribbean had already laid down the gauntlet as far as spectacular is concerned, and that unfortunately, had elements of the supernatural and the fantastical in its aid.
But for a period piece, with foundation laid in history, coupled with a dash of artistic and dramatic licensing, Elizabeth: The Golden Age does serve up copious amounts of excellent acting, courtesy of Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush reprising her role as trusted advisor Sir Francis Walsingham and Owen, that it still makes it compelling to witness historical events put up on screen (of course with accuracy never being 100% anyway). Historical biographies more often than not have dramatic moments included to spice up proceedings, but this one had enough political intrigue and scheming draped with beautiful costumes to keep you engaged. Time to pick up the prequel!