Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #11

Re: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Just a point I think you overlooked about Elizabeth: The Golden Age, namely the British origins of it.

It helps (I think) to understand how Elizabeth I is seen by the large majority of the British public, she’s a mythologised figure tied up with the British identity, similar to George Washington is for American viewers. A greater black/white divide is down to her status rather than anti-Catholicism per se.

I think much of the anti-Catholicism you point out can be attributed to attempts at historical accuracy. ’Every Catholic is a potential assassin’ was absolutely the way the situation would’ve been seen by the Queen’s advisers at the time.

What you see is not an accurate portrayal of history, but one of the major English/British national myths as it exists in the British public perception.

Consider it our version of The Patriot, glossing over our faults and demonising our enemies. If there was a major outcry over that film then I missed it; the caricature of the British that you skip over in a couple of sentences compared to a full review of it taking place here. As a non-Catholic Brit I found myself instinctively seeing far more bias in The Patriot than in Elizabeth (and this probably shines through above). It’s likely we all see unfairness clearer when it’s aimed towards us.

On one point, certainly, we can agree: It’s easiest to see unfairness when it’s aimed at us. I am aware of this, and I try to make some effort to discern when oxen are being gored even beyond the boundaries of my own fence.

I’m much struck by your George Washington example, if only because I can’t help thinking that in today’s Hollywood a major costume biopic about George Washington would almost certainly be ruthlessly iconoclastic rather than hagiographically mythological. (The Patriot is a well-chosen counter-example, but while it ruthlessly demonizes the British, it doesn’t celebrate any particular figure from American history.)

Ironically, this iconoclastic bent strikes me as a problematic symptom, related to a systemic politically motivated hostility to the institutions of Western civilization generally and the United States in particular. It might thus seem that I ought to appreciate a hagiographically mythological depiction of an icon of one of the most venerable institutions of Western civilization, the British monarchy — especially since, while I am American, I am something of an Anglophile and a fan of the idea of monarchy in general (as well as a King Arthur enthusiast particularly).

Yet Elizabeth: The Golden Age doesn’t just depict period anti-Catholicism in a historical context, as you suggest; it embraces it wholeheartedly. “Every Catholic is a potential assassin” isn’t meant as a coldly accurate depiction of religious prejudice among Elizabeth’s advisors; it’s meant as the accepted onscreen rationale for Elizabeth’s actions, which are hardly critically depicted.

Was my review of The Patriot insufficiently critical of the anti-British slant? I think I devoted more than the “couple of sentences” you suggest to that subject, though it was hardly the major theme that the anti-Catholicism of Elizabeth: The Golden Age is in my review of that film. In my defense, I might cite three points:

  1. My review of The Patriot was written eight years ago, very early in my critical career. Possibly today I would pay more attention to this point.
  2. As my review notes, The Patriot is a “popcorn action movie,” less deserving of serious attention than a sequel to the Oscar-winning art-house hit Elizabeth.
  3. Any sort of prejudice is bad, but anti-Catholicism, being directed specifically against the true faith, is a whole different league of evil, and is closer to the raison d’être of my work and my website.

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Review: The Patriot (2000)

B- | *** | +2-2| Adults*

Two things The Patriot isn’t are cynical or ironic. It’s corny, yes, and manipulative, not to mention clichéd, sentimental, and platitudinous. But at least it believes in its clichés and sentiments and platitudes. Its convictions may be half-baked, but it has the courage of them.

Continue reading this review >

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