Long-time readers know the drill with my design scheme: yes, that poster on the left does mean I think you should see Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and yes, the score at the bottom of this page does mean that I thought it was at least somewhat awful. In point of fact, those two positions are intimately related. We all know that there are movies that are so bad they're good, and then there are movies that are so bad they're completely fucking awesome.

Truth be told, I rather liked Elizabeth, this film's 1998 precursor. I liked its Shakespearean appropriation of history, I liked the gritty prettiness of its production design, and I liked the way that it modulated its pageantry with a grubby little conspiracy tale full of anti-heroes and villains. There is absolutely nothing modulating The Golden Age, which starts out in high camp mode and proceeds to lose its mind. The best comparison I can make is to Showgirls, although this film never comes close to that film's woozy heights of deliberate awfulness: both films are unconscionably excessive train wrecks, but compulsively watchable, giddy train wrecks.

There's nothing here done by halves: the production design is coated in gilt, the costumes are almost cartoonishly large and elaborate, the score almost never stops pounding with its giant strings of tortured nobility. The dialogue is incredibly overripe: anyone who saw the trailer knows the magnificent line "I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare if you dare to try me!" (context doesn't really make it any more or less goofy), but that's got nothing on some of the things the actors are forced to say. My own personal favorite is the fantastically catty "My bitches wear my collars!" spoken by Queen Elizabeth I in a fit of peevish lesbian rage.

Oh, yes. The lesbianism. Much like Oliver Stone's equally arresting, equally shitty camptacular Alexander, it's the film's pronounced homoeroticism that is its most conspicuous and probably best feature. All very sanitised, of course, just smoldering glances - but oh how they smolder! - and suggestive, sensitive touching - but oh how it suggests! - and really smutty double entendres. That hale old signifier of the Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name, the bath scene, even puts in an appearance.

This is a gay film. So, so gay (that's a compliment, by the way, because camp is the only thing standing between The Golden Age and complete sensory exhaustion). And it stars as gay a Queen Elizabeth as you could imagine - I have never seen Quentin Crisp's turn as her majesty in Orlando, but I cannot imagine how he could have been any more drag than Cate Blanchett is, reprising the role that made her famous but not playing the same character. In Elizabeth, she gave, you know, a "performance," but here, perhaps sensing that the script was as purple as a field of lilacs, she unhinges herself, camps up a storm, and clearly has a ball doing it. I daresay that the single most watchable element of The Golden Age is Blanchett's apoplectic joy in Acting! without restraint.

Not that anybody was going to stop her. I don't know what happened in the last nine years, but the many members of the creative team returning from the original - director Shekhar Kapur, cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, editor Jill Bilcock, costume designer Alexandra Byrne and co-writer Michael Hirst - have all lost their minds. Elizabeth wasn't the perfect model of restrained filmmaking, but at least it had discipline, and everyone was working towards the same end. Here, we have a great many obviously talented individuals turning it up to 11 and trying to be the biggest part of the whole project. For my money, it's the musical score by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman that wins this particular battle, but it's a photo finish, really. At ever moment the film is pulling out every stop it can to be the most overwhelming film it can be. Damn me if it fails: it's altogether overwhelming, like drowning in a bathtub filled with sequins; or a better image might be like hitting every key on pipe organ at once: that is how much it blows.

It's all so magical if you like this sort of thing: beautiful white horses jumping off of burning boats in slow-motion, deposed monarchs wearing flowing blood-red gowns to their executions, giant crane shots that turn back 270º on themselves as they pan over throne rooms. "Restraint" is a word that has less than nothing to do with Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and sometimes that is quite enough to make a film totally fantastic, even if it fails on every conceivable aesthetic yardstick.

There's a plot in there somewhere: the queen lusts after the gorgeous Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen, being gorgeous), she lusts after the coquettish Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish, being a coquette), and she becomes thunderously pissed when those two knock boots. Meanwhile the comically diabolical Spanish Empire is pitching a vast field of CGI boats against England to depose the Protestant queen, and I will honestly say that the cartoon Catholic baddies in this film shocked even my decidedly uninvested tastes.

But that's secondary - far secondary - to the simple matter of lusciousness and over-the-top gorgeousness and gorgeousity and Cate Blanchett acting like a holy terror. It's awful. But dear God almighty, is it ever great.

3/10