Revisionist history that allows an unwed sixteenth-century English queen to get it on before declaring herself a career virgin also allows the lush Elizabeth to bust free of period torpor. Stuffy it’s not. Australian actress Cate Blanchett has a passionate fire and wit that command attention. Think of Princess Diana when British screenwriter Michael Hirst and Delhi-born director Shekhar Kapur show a girl forced into womanhood by the duties of royalty.
At times the film is annoyingly enamored with its own campy, post-feminist cleverness. Here’s this tender girl, deferential to her lover, Lord Dudley (Joseph Fiennes, Ralph’s raffish brother), until she’s thrust on the throne, pressured to marry a Catholic and to breed sons. Naturally, she rebels. Blanchett makes Elizabeth’s transformation from mouse to marriage-hating monarch such a hypnotic spectacle that you’re happy when she stops diddling Dudley and starts kicking the ass of the conniving Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston). Her chief ally is spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), who has a nasty habit of slitting the throats of the boys he buggers. Still, he’s handy in a crisis. Rush slithers with a wonderfully sinister allure, but the film belongs to Blanchett — this hellcat Virgin Queen is something to see.