SS Rajamouli’s RRR was passed over for Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show as India’s official entry in the Best International Feature Film category. Given RRR’s Stateside box office success and warm reviews from American critics, Rajamouli is boldly attempting to secure nominations without the Indian government’s imprimatur. Even if he does not succeed, Rajamouli has managed what no Indian filmmaker has done before: to be accepted on his own terms with a film made entirely by Indians and on a local subject.
One of India’s brightest chances at the Oscars was in 1999, the year that the Academy considered films released in 1998. Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth was nominated for seven Oscars. In the end, however, it won a single trophy: for make-up.
Elizabeth was bested by other period productions, including Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan. Even Cate Blanchett, whose brilliant performance in Elizabeth made her an international star, was denied the Best Actress award (she unfairly lost to Gwyneth Paltrow from Shakespeare in Love).
If RRR is an action epic with British colonisers as the villains, Elizabeth is a portrait of the early years of an English queen. Michael Hirst’s screenplay, directed by Kapur with panache, veers away from the history books to instead present a thoroughly modern study of the consolidation of authority. The film is available on a pay-per-view basis on Apple TV+, YouTube Movies and Google Play Movies.
Blanchett’s Elizabeth, first seen as a young loose-haired beauty cavorting with her lover Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), is sucked into the power vacuum created by her half-sister Mary’s death. Elizabeth’s elevation is set against a brutal turf war between Catholics and Protestants. While the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) is Elizabeth’s most vocal adversary, Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) moves stealthily from the shadows to the centre of the court to advise the inexperienced queen.
The game of the throne’s sweeping camerawork, fast-paced narrative, and scenes of murder and torture surely influenced the series Game of Thrones. Elizabeth’s ascent on the strength of manipulation and ruthlessness echoes the rise of several political leaders the world over, including our very own Indira Gandhi.
Cate Blanchett went from strength to strength after Elizabeth (her latest film, Todd Field’s Tár, is likely to fetch her a nomination at the Oscars, if not the award itself). Shekhar Kapur hung around in Hollywood for a few more years, directing the period drama Four Feathers in 2002 and a less warmly-received sequel to Elizabeth in 2007.
Kapur is making his comeback with the romantic comedy What’s Love Got to Do With It?, scheduled for a January 2023 release. As it turns out, this is also the question Elizabeth asks of Robert Dudley, one of several men she sweeps aside on her way to total control of the throne.