11/16/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes
If Bill Clinton, beset by scandal, is holding a pity party for himself these days, seeing the absorbing political pageant that is Elizabeth
might put his current woes into perspective. The President's self-confessed "improper relationship" with Monica Lewinsky pales when compared to the orgy of trysts, cross-dressing, throat slittings, poisonings and beheadings depicted here as common to the 16th-century court of England's Elizabeth I.
Blanchett (Oscar and Lucinda
), moving from romantic, hopeful teenager to mighty monarch, is dazzling as the Virgin Queen—though in this version of her story Elizabeth could not have claimed that title honestly. Fiennes (younger brother of Ralph) is underwhelming as her lover Dudley, and Rush (Shine
) is too lip-lickingly scheming as an adviser. Still, director Shekhar Kapur has fashioned a fine political spectacle. (R)
Bottom Line: A royal treat