Lead Actress: 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'

Returning to her career-making (and Oscar nominated) role as Britain’s most celebrated monarch in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” Cate Blanchett certainly had no shortage of literary and historical background for the character. And yet her primary point of reference was instead rooted firmly in the gynecological.

“I thought about the time I was playing her — historically she would have been 52 years old,” Blanchett explains. “It’s not literally in the film, though there are a few references to it; Shekhar (Kapur) isn’t interested in literal chronology as a filmmaker, so my literal age went out the window. But I still thought of her as a woman whose cycle was breaking down.”

That might seem an oblique angle to approach a figure who, with the Spanish Armada approaching, sits at the cusp of one of the most epochal turning points in European history. But it’s one that makes perfect dramaturgical sense.

“Her body was at war with itself,” Blanchett continues. “So I thought about what happens to a woman in menopause, in terms of what was going on internally for her.”

Such subtext has significant narrative implications. As the “virginal,” and therefore heirless, ruler of a nation under siege, Blanchett’s Elizabeth faces the threat of oblivion from within as well as without. That implicit sense of biological upheaval, coupled with external danger, allowed Blanchett to retain empathy despite Elizabeth’s more impetuous actions — especially her manipulative surrogate flirtation with the much younger Sir Walter Raleigh — that could easily appear tyrannical or cruel to modern sensibilities.

“This film has a much more internal energy than the first,” Blanchett says, and perhaps that explains the lukewarm critical reception given the film as a whole (though reviewers were unanimous in their admiration for Blanchett), with many feeling that the numerous internal dramas detracted from the film’s historical scope.

And yet it’s that internal energy that provides the cornerstone of her performance, much as her maturation from girlish young Tudor to stately queen in “Elizabeth” set that film’s political intrigue into sharp relief. Once again, Blanchett’s ability to locate such an intimate nexus in the most epic of settings testifies to her uncommon insight as an actress.

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Next: Blanchett looks to grace every multiplex in the known universe next spring in the long-gestating fourth “Indiana Jones” installment, as well as a starring role next fall in David Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

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