Sunday, 4 November 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

My wife and I went to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age last night, and we also got to see the trailer to the new movie adaptation of Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy which has been getting a number of American Roman Catholic bloggers in the mood for some book burning. I’m not sure what the American Catholics will make of The Golden Age. I picked up a copy of The Catholic Herald at church this morning, featuring a review of the film which neatly expresses the British Catholic’s attitude towards non-Catholics and their ideas, in stark contrast to our American brethren’s hysteria.

The Herald’s reviewer, Freddie Sayers, writes;
‘when a Daily Mail reporter rang me last week to find out if the Catholic community was “outraged” by the new film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I took great pleasure in denying her the tabloid quotes she was after. Is The Golden Age anti-Catholic, she asked? Of course it is. Will that upset the Catholic community in this country? Not overly, I suspected: they are more likely to be upset by the absence of artistic merit than by the ludicrous villainy of every Catholic cast member. British Catholics are a tough bunch, you know, and highly discerning to boot.’
Since the protagonist of the film is our famously protestant monarch, the ‘baddies’ were always going to be the Catholics and, perhaps predictably, they were presented in a laughably grotesque light. As Sayers says, the king of Spain
‘is shown to be a wicked fellow, bow-legged and clad in black, constantly surrounded by monks mumbling ominous prayers, pacing through cathedrals in a perpetual state of disquieting religiosity. To top off this melange of voodoo magic and murderous superstition, he clutches a miniature doll of Elizabeth, on which to cast his murky spells. It is a preposterous parody of the Catholic stereotype that has prevailed through the ages.’
I believe the doll actually belonged to Phillip’s daughter Isabella in the film, but you get the point. The Protestants, on the other hand are presented in a better light. Elizabeth, though aging, is a beautiful woman surrounded by beautiful maiden servants and chased after by suitors. Also on England’s side is the swashbuckling Walter Raleigh, played by Clive Owen. The same crude signifiers we’ve seen in dozens of movies since cinema began are used to help us distinguish between the good (ie beautiful) and evil (ie ugly). This was, though, merely superficial as any discerning viewer would have noted, as we see the protestant English partaking in torture as well as subterfuge, to see Mary Queen of Scots executed for treason, neither of which shows the prods in a particularly sympathetic light.

One thing I found amusing was that whenever we see the underground church in England, they are feverishly dying cloth red. I’m sure there is some historical basis to this that the creators of the movie have latched on to, but after the second or third time we see this it comes across as really silly.

Another quotation from Sayer regarding British Catholics which I liked was;
we will defend ourselves when under attack, and we will censure what we perceive to be wrong, but we strive to do so with the measured calm that true confidence allows.
It is a lack of such confidence that I object to in the drive to ban the likes of Pullman. If we think we have it right, that our faith is the one, true faith, then why should we be so afraid of Mr Pullman?

It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction the film draws from the American Catholics, who need little provocation to reach for the pitchfork and flaming torch.

The best part of the film, I will point out, managed to transcend the Protestant/Catholic divide by appealing to the english audience's sense of nationalism. After the Armada is comprehensively spanked by Sir Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, the film fades out with a subtitle proclaiming words to the effect of:

'The loss of the Armada was the most humiliating defeat ever experienced by Spain'.

The englishman in me couldn't help but grin.

No comments: