By Russell Baillie

ELIZABETH ***

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Rating: R16

Elizabeth the First had - according to this latest big-screen tapestry of her life - an initiation into royalty not unlike a certain daughter-in-law of Liz II.

She, too,was a young woman thrown into a dynasty that she was too young, too naive and too good-looking for. And who, after reinventing her image as the Virgin Queen, turned herself into a sort of living martyr. An icon of her times.

Ok, this doesn't quite play as modern allegory. But it does show Queen Bess' remarkable survival instincts in a treacherous, male-dominated time. Hers was the original ability to keep her head when all about her were losing theirs.

That comes through especially in Blanchett's portrayal of Elizabeth from her late teens to that reinvention. Blanchett's Elizabeth is up there with Glenda Jackson's (or for that matter, with Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder), easily carrying the film though its labyrinth of skullduggery, double-crosses and sectarian conflict which marked her time.

Like Mel Gibson's William Wallace, Aussie Blanchett's performance is proof an RSC apprenticeship isn't necessarily a qualification to breathe new life into historical British figures who might otherwise be consigned to the Madame Tussaud's treatment.

Director Kapur's delivery tries to avoid such stiltedness from the outset, showing the intellectually blooming but forgotten princess, who ascends to the throne after the death of Mary (played in grotesque fashion by Kathy Burke).

She soon finds herself ruling a bankrupt, militarily threatened England while under pressure from her noblemen to marry and produce an heir. Though she doesn't share their catholic tastes in potential suitors - especially as longtime lover Robert Dudley (played as a dashing dandy by Joseph Fiennes) still courts many a favour on her weekends off.

Meanwhile, her trusted spy Sir Francis Walsingham (a neatly sinister Rush) is soon doing her political dirty work with enemies domestic and abroad.

But for all the intrigue, Elizabeth still falls short of being the movie it wants to be. Ultimately it falls down a gap between political thriller and a revisionist historical biopic and so is unsatisfactory on both counts.

But with Blanchett at its centre it still leaves an impressive portrait of a queen who survived, then bloomed, and effectively re-deified a dynasty which had already gone to hell.