We watched “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” the other night. No, I wouldn’t call it “anti-Catholic,” as some of my Catholic friends have, for the simple reason that they would suggest that it is therefore “pro-Protestant.” It isn’t.
As the commentaries on the DVD by director Shekhar Kapur make clear, he’s trying to make a morality play on issues of “tolerance” vs. “religious fanaticism” in today’s world. Thus the Spanish, though they are Catholic, with candles and clerics and crucifixes galore, really represent “religious fanaticism”; draped in black, slinking across the screen like the mustached villain in a bad melodrama (please feel free to “boo” and “hiss”), they are evil, and represent those religious forces even good church-going Americans fear. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is the embodiment of reason and enlightenment; she is a benign monarch who wants to be generous and protective of her Catholic subjects. She represents tolerance and compassion and wisdom.
Not only Catholics, but also the descendants of the real Protestants of the period, whether Puritan or Lutheran or Anabaptist, should smirk at this characterization.
The screenplay was written by William Nicholson, also known for “Gladiator” and both versions of “Shadowlands.” He was raised and educated Catholic, but, as his autobiographical sketch notes, he outgrew Christianity while in college.
I still considered myself a practising Catholic as I began my university career, as a scholar at Christ’s College, Cambridge; but by the time I left all that was left was the space in me that my faith had occupied for so long. Much as I wanted to go on believing, it became clear to me that it’s we humans who make God, in our great need. God, if he existed, would have no need of humanity. But as all my writing demonstrates, the need or the puzzle or the hunger has never left me.
Director Shekhar Kapur is also a spiritual seeker, and is aligned with Deepak Chopra. He has said this is a film about Elizabeth seeking her own divinity. In another place, he recalls that Cate Blanchett suggested he was trying to tell the story of the Buddha through Elizabeth, and he says, “She was the only one that got it.”
If you’ve seen the movie, think of the scene where Elizabeth strides barefoot to the cliffs to observe the burning Armada. She’s no longer wearing the Galadriel-like armor and riding an elvish horse as she did in her rallying the troops speech (“Upon St. Crispin’s Day!” was all that was lacking). Now she stands barefoot and apparently vulnerable–but she has been transformed. It is not a “Protestant wind” that wrecks this Armada–it is the Divine Virginia, whose glance causes the winds to blow and the lightning to fall upon the benighted Spaniards. Here she has pulled away from her own mortal prison and awakened the inner sleeper, repelling the forces of Mara. She is Neo of “The Matrix.” She is Muad’Dib of “Dune.”
We don’t sympathize with this Elizabeth at the end. We don’t find her repulsive. We can only laugh at Kapur’s silly New Age vision.