The story of Elizabeth's rise to the throne of England, avoiding execution by her sister and the politics of the court to become Queen.
The tragedy of Queen Elizabeth I is that the more confident and powerful she grew, the weirder her hairdos became. The coiffeur theory of history is borne out in Kapur's snazzy costume drama, in which Good Queen Bess' ascension to the throne, early reign, and transformation from vivacious young woman into majestic icon are presented as a dark historical thriller.
Not your typical Tudor pageant, Elizabeth's 16th century England is a sordid, deadly place, the royal court teeming with intrigues, religious fanatics and groupies. Queen Mary (Kathy Burke as a grotesque nutter) busies herself torturing Protestants. When she dies, the new queen's "advisors" (led by Sir Richard Attenborough as Sir William Cecil) are keen on getting all Tarantinoid on errant Catholics. Fast-rising actress Blanchett makes a spirited, intelligent and attractive young princess struggling to assert herself over conniving nobles and the nation.
Essentially this is a sympathetic portrait of a smart, strong woman stretched to survive and command in a man's world, while her sense of duty conflicts with her romantic inclinations. Vying with the call of destiny for her attention, Fiennes presents a dandy distraction as Elizabeth's ambitious lover, Robert Dudley (this before she became a professional virgin). Good, too, are the impressions of regal isolation amid the pomp and decorative excess.
The slip-ups in a generally absorbing, sometimes inspired and visually potent production are some unnecessarily tittersome stunt casting Wayne Sleep, Eric Cantona among an otherwise class ensemble (notably Rush as the queen's coolly sinister henchman and Eccleston as perfidious Norfolk), and a decidedly arty bent.
A powerful, arty production, with a strong cast (with a couple of exceptions), perfoming well.