Almost 10 years after Shekhar Kapur's ELIZABETH (1998) helped make Australian actress Cate Blanchett an international star, she returns to the role of Protestant queen Elizabeth I in this gorgeous, melodramatic throwback to the golden age of Hollywood historical epics. London, 1585. Now matured into the iconic figure of royal portraits, all deathly pallor and towering red wigs topped with sprays of feathers, Elizabeth has ruled her country for nearly 30 years, but her reign is in peril from within and without. King Philip II of Spain (Jordi Molla) is determined to liberate English Catholics from the Protestant heresy by placing Elizabeth's cousin, exiled Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), on the throne, and the fact that the "virgin queen" has failed to marry or produce an heir worries her closest advisors. She seeks reassurance from resident astrologer John Dee (David Threlfall), dutifully meets with royal suitors she has no intention of marrying, and flirts chastely with adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who gets her attention by emerging from a crowd to toss that specious cloak over a puddle in her path. But there's no rest from duty for the queen: There are homegrown Catholic plots afoot, plots whose tendrils come as close to her inner circle as the brother of her closest advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush, also returning from the first film). Meanwhile, Philip is denuding Spain's forest to build the armada with which he plans to humble England, and Raleigh is dallying with Elizabeth's own lady-in-waiting, Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). History gets short shrift from screenwriters William Nicholson and Michael Hirst — starting with the not insignificant fact that in 1585 Elizabeth was 52 years old — but Kapur is clearly more interested in spectacle and soap opera than dusty old facts. The music — composed by Craig Armstrong and Bollywood superstar A.R. Rahman — is bombastic, and the climactic battle between the British navy and Spain's armada is clearly mostly CGI effects. But the costumes and interiors are flat-out gorgeous and the cast is good enough to make the nonsense play, though Blanchett has her work cut out for her when Elizabeth is called upon to rage about the Raleigh-Throckmorton situation like a lovelorn teenager.