Director Shekhar Kapur revisits the world of Queen Elizabeth I with the historic epic Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Kapur first explored Queen Elizabeth’s life in the 1998 film Elizabeth which earned seven Oscar nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Actress. With Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Kapur reunites with the actress who picked up an Academy Award nomination for playing the Queen: Cate Blanchett. Busy promoting their second movie together, the director said he hopes that if they tackle a third Elizabeth film, it won’t take them another 10 years to do so. “Oh God, I hope not,” laughed Kapur. “I think Cate will survive, I may not. I really hope not.”
Director Shekhar Kapur Press Conference
Do you see Queen Elizabeth’s conflict as being between personal intimacy and being aloof as a ruler? Where would you go thematically with a third film?
“Can I change the word aloof and change it to divine? I think just like Diana, when we worship people who are in absolute power, we worship them and we think – when we expect them to be divine, and in a way they realize that they should be divine. Elizabeth actually believed that all kings and all queens, that they ruled by divine right. So the conflict was not between aloofness and mortality, from divinity and mortality, and so the conflict is: how can you be divine? Or you could be President Clinton, but you can’t be mortal, you can’t have a little affair somewhere. Those are the aspects of absolute power. What happens when you get into absolute power, and especially at that time it was much more valid in terms of the divine right of kings to rule and queens to rule, so it is can you retain any kind of mortal aspirations of having relationships and be divine at the same time? That’s the question.
The first film really was about power. The second one is about absolute power and divinity. And if you’re asking me about the third one, it’s obviously is if you’ve been divine and kind of immortal all your life, what happens when you’re facing your mortality? How do you, if you’ve been this great being and suddenly you realize that you’re going to die, and in death you’re like everybody else. Suddenly you plummet down.
There was something about Elizabeth that was very interesting, that when she realized that she going to die she stood for 12 hours, or something like that, or 18 hours, history has said. We know that she thought that if she sat down that she would die, so she would not sit down. It was like her will against the will of death. In the last film, I set up the idea of divinity in the last scene. And this [film] we set up the idea of immortality leading to mortality. That’s a very complex answer to your [question].”
Would you define this is as historical fiction or historical fantasy?
“I would describe all history as fiction and interpretation. When I just finished this film, somebody sent me a script of Mary Queen of Scots. I read it just for the interest of it, and it was a completely different interpretation of history. Elizabeth is an absolute bitch and Mary of Scots is this great romantic novel being. Now you ask the Irish, and they have a totally different aspect of it. Ask any Catholic and they’ll give you a totally different aspect of history.
Imagine that Spain actually, [that] the Armada had succeeded and the history books would have been written in Spanish. We would have been talking in Spanish. But now try to imagine how Philip would have narrated history. History has always been an interpretation. So what makes it valid to us is to tell a contemporary story and use history as a moral story that is more relevant to our times.
I do believe that civilizations that don’t learn from history are civilizations that are doomed to make the same mistakes again and again, which is why this film starts with the idea of fundamentalism against tolerance. It’s not Catholic against Protestant; it’s a very fundamental form of Catholicism. It was the time of the Spanish Inquisition and against a woman whose half of her population was Protestant, half was Catholic. And there were enough bigots in her Protestant Parliament to say, ‘Just kill them all,’ and she was constantly saying no. She was constantly on the side of tolerance. So you interpret history to tell the story that is relevant to us now. I used to hate history when I was kid, couldn’t handle it until somebody made it entertaining for me. So it’s my job as a filmmaker also to make it entertaining.”
How was working with Samantha Morton?
“You know what? I have to tell you, when I was going in everybody said, ‘Oh you’re going to have a lot of trouble with Samantha.’ Samantha and I had five conversations, five conversations, and she said, ‘Do you agree with the following, let’s talk about it, did she believe she was Queen?’ I said yes. ‘Did she believe she had the divine right to rule, and Elizabeth was a usurper and a bastard?’ I said yes. And we talked about her conviction that she needed – then we added to it the fact that she was a total manipulator. And then we added to the idea that actually she became the Queen, she became divine when she was going to her death. In that scene where she’s going to that block, the block was her marriage altar. She was being married to God and she suddenly, finally, came to terms with being divine and queen at her death.
So Samantha was like a dream to work through it. She was fantastic. She was just fantastic. And sometimes you’re so taken aback by an artist’s own interpretation. The only argument we had is did she have a French accent or did she have a Scottish accent? She was a Scottish queen, but accents are very funny. We assume that everybody at that time spoke Queen’s English. We have no idea, and I can bet everything that that’s not how they spoke. It’s just the genre of filmmaking. And in France, did everybody speak with that kind of French accent that we’ve now come to term as a French accent? I bet you they were from all over France. There must be a hundred accents going on in the Court. So ultimately she was more comfortable… ‘She’s the Queen of Scots, she believes she’s Queen. I want to go with a Scottish accent, go with it.’ That was it.”