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by Jim Wunderle


Directed by: Shekhar Kapur

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough

Rated: R

It's the late 1500s, Mary Tudor daughter of the late Henry VIII is on the English throne and the order of the day is burning "heretics." Heretical action is anything that may even hint at not being a faithful Catholic who swears allegiance to the Pope.

Thus begins "Elizabeth," the latest historical drama from Britain's Channel Four Films.

Queen Mary Tudor suffers and dies, and, to the horror of most of the English court, her half sister, Elizabeth (who is lovingly referred to as "that bastard"), is installed on the throne. Elizabeth, being somewhat more liberal-minded than her half sister, doesn't see why the Protestants need be persecuted so.

Her reasoning is simple: We all worship the same God. She also finds it unsettling that her Catholic subjects have sworn allegiance to the Pope, rather than to England by way of the Queen. As one might imagine, differences of religious opinion can lead to bloody quarrels.

Most of Elizabeth's closest advisers spend a great deal of time trying to push her into marriage, in order to produce a suitable heir to the throne, as well as strengthen ties to Spain or France. At this particular time in history, England was not the sole superpower she came to be.

Elizabeth has no intention of marrying and instead enjoys "frolicking" with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, an old friend and "secret" paramour. With more people of the court around her than secret service agents around a president, Elizabeth should know rulers have no secrets. Paramours do, sometimes, and midway into the film, Elizabeth learns that Robert is a married man.

Of more importance is the fact that the Vatican has issued a secret decree saying no one need pay allegiance to Elizabeth, and if she turns up dead, it might good.

Spurred on by a bad love affair and with a few good advisers who care about her and England, Elizabeth carries out a vendetta that, in cinematic terms, is an obvious homage to Michael Corleone's actions at the end of "The Godfather."

Cate Blanchett, who was so good in "Oscar and Lucinda," is near perfect in her role here as Elizabeth I. She goes from a fun-loving country girl, to assuming the throne and the manners that go with royalty, to her final makeover as "The Virgin Queen" who vows that from this day on she will be married only to England.

"Home Fries"

Directed by: Dean Parisot

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Catherine O'Hara, Luke Wilson, Jake Busey

Rated: PG-13

On a more recent historical note, Henry Lever is dead. He's the character whose death puts into motion "Home Fries," the new screwball comedy that is long on screwball but short on comedy.

Henry (unbeknownst to all but the audience) has been scared to death by two yahoos in a black helicopter. Said yahoos turn out to be his stepsons who are merely doing the bidding of Henry's wife, their vindictive mother, who's upset when she learns that not only was he having an affair, his young mistress is with child.

The mistress, Sally, is played by the always likable Drew Barrymore. Sally works at the local Burger Matic, where one of the yahoo stepsons has taken a job to find out if someone may have been listening in when they were killing their stepdad. The guy immediately falls for Sally and the rest of "Home Fries" plays out in fairly typical fashion.

Not bad by any means, but it could have been so much tastier.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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