It’s Cate’s show, of course, and she’s simply magical. With the added confidence of years, she embodies perfectly Elizabeth’s own maturation. Ever confident yet with astonishing range and subtlety, her performance in this will in some ways be overshadowed by the fact that we by now expect such work from her.
Set during the period where Elizabeth’s confrontation with the Spanish Armada would lead to her essentially solidifying England’s position for the next half-millennium, it is an epic full of intrigue and grand-scale conflict, perfect for plussing the plot of the first film. With the wider canvas politically, the setting itself is in turn almost claustrophobic, as almost the entire film takes place within the castle walls with brief excursions to the outside for bursts of intrigue. It’s this balance, between the parlour politics and grand events that sent the tone for the film, and it’s a remarkable feet that it works as well as it does.
Aside from the political and military machinations, the major character introduction this time round is that of Walter Raleigh, played with a dashing smirk by Clive Owen. In fact, it’s an incredible ensemble indeed when the shine of Emily Watson and Mary, Queen of Scots is masked by the likes of her co-actors.
As the story unfolds and Elizabeth’s challenges result in her once again reigning in her outward passions, we see a continuing transformation of this queen from rarified icon to genuine, complex character. As this is the middle of a planned trilogy, the scene is now set for this remarkable series to effectively tell a tale truly larger than life, yet one shaped by the smallest of gestures by one of the finest actors of this or any other age.