Elizabeth (1998)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough, Joseph Fiennes
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Sneak Peek

Most of us have heard of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, her quarrels with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, and maybe even her long and important reign. However the details of her ascension to the English throne, her political opponents' attempts to have her killed, the scheming and plotting has mostly be relegated to history books. With "Elizabeth" director Shekhar Kapur and writer Michael Hirst tried to bring this historic icon to life on the big screen, and it was the role that made Cate Blanchett a Hollywood superstar.

The illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) is the half-sister of reigning Queen Mary (Kathy Burke), also known as Bloody Mary. After years of being the family's eyesore and even having been wrongly accused of treason because of her Protestant religious beliefs, Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England when Mary dies of cancer.

But most political figures would like nothing more than see her dead. The Catholic fanatics are scared bottomless of Elizabeth's Protestant faith, and the Lords are afraid they may be stripped of their powers. The Spanish would rather see her dead than in an alliance with France, while the French would rather kill her than allow an alliance with Spin. For a 25-year old outcast the prospect of ruling a nation against all odds must have been daunting to say the least.

But Elizabeth prevails. While everyone seems to have some good advice for her, she always feels pressured and like a string puppet, while all the while assassination attempts are being made on her from all corners. The events harden the young Queen and soon she decides that she is nobody's fool. Casting aside her advisors she takes politics into her own hands and shows everyone that a woman can be every bit as powerful as a man. She goes on to become one of England's most successful, important and remembered monarchs as her rule ids known as the Golden Age.

While not entirely faithful to history I take no exception with the artistic liberties depicted in the film for reasons I have pointed out many times before. For movies I find it more important to have them create engaging characters and dramatic stories to bring the historic figures to life rather than follow history books to the letter and get tangled up in irrelevant details. One of the biggest changes her is evidently Elizabeth's undermining and ultimately her doing away with Mary the Guise, the Mother of Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scotland. Instead of recreating the entire political plot that made up this relationship, and which can easily fill an entire movie by itself, it becomes a side plot where the outcome remains the same, showing Elizabeth's resolve as to how she decides to deal with her opponents.

"Elizabeth" is an opulent picture with a lavish production design, wonderful costumes and a remarkable cast. Cate Blanchett brings the character of Elizabeth to life with amazing ferocity. We see her character grow step by step from the overwhelmed young woman to the Queen who would alone, steadfastly rule her country and grow its wealth and influence for 45 years.
Geoffrey Rush is Sir Francis Walsingham, and his understated play – underscored by the masterful cinematography – makes him one of the most powerful men in the film who is never overtly the focus of attention. He is, in essence, Elizabeth's right hand, the executor of her wishes and her confidante who never imposes his advice but rather encourages Elizabeth to find her own way. We know that he clearly feels the she has the power and strength within her to rise to excellence and it is with his support that she changes England's political landscape.

The cast is rounded out by other magnificent actors who create a boiling pool of drama, intrigue and skullduggery.

"Elizabeth" is one of those films that you simply have to see in high definition in order to get the most out of it. The high definition transfer on this HD-DVD is simply breathtaking as it revels in colors and detail. The level of definition is so outstanding that it often reminded me of the times I first experienced high definition. There is a "Wow!" effect to this transfer that is immediately noticeably as you feast your eyes on the details of the costumes, the backdrops and scenery, the vibrant quality of the picture and the remarkable black levels. Without a doubt, "Elizabeth" is among the best high definition transfers out there. One that will make you stop in your tracks and look again and again.

A Dolby TrueHD audio track complements the marvelous video presentation. It is big with a deep bass extension when required, but also makes extremely good use of ambiance for effect. The surround channels are constantly engaged with music, chatter, reverbs and early reflections, or other directional sound effects. It creates an atmosphere that is alive with bustle yet always feels real and organic.
The dialogues are well integrated and never drowned out by the activities and the music is making best use of the wide sound stage.

There is a glitch on the disc that I also noticed on Universal's HD-DVD version of "The Getaway," released on the same day. On my Toshiba HD-A1 the subtitles are cropped n the lower left corner of the screen throughout the entire movie. In fact, even if you bring up the main menu and navigate to some sub menus you can see a rectangular area where no menu content is being printed. It is like a matte box that prevents any overlay information to be printed upon.

A commentary track with director Shekhar Kapur is also included on the disc, offering additional insight into the making of the movie as well as a good number of historic background information.

As extras you will find a sneak peek at "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" on the disc, which hits theaters just as I am writing this, and which continues the saga around Elizabeth's reign.

"The Making Of Elizabeth" is also part of the release, as well as an "Elizabeth" promo featurette.

"Elizabeth" is a remarkable movie that certainly deserved its 7 Academy Award nominations in 1998. While looking good on DVD before, in high definition, the film reveals an incredibly newfound richness. It appears that many period films benefit tremendously form the increased resolution that high definition presentations offer as they tend to be dressed so luxuriously and lavishly that many details are lost in standard definition. This disc is a clear winner. It offers one of the best high def transfers which should make this release an instant hit with every HD-DVD fan.