I wrote an article about this for Screen Education. As we sold the copyright to ATOM, I cannot republish the whole article here, but I'll show the first and last paragraphs.
Historical costume dramas are often rather reverential affairs, with much emphasis placed on the expensive authenticity of the costumes, if not always the language. But in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth (1998), although the mise-en-scene looks legitimate and certainly very expensive, the cinematic sensibility is modern, and has much to do with an awareness, in terms of the narrative, of the whodunnit, and of film noir with regard to style—and perhaps even of Bollywood in the extravagance of two or three of the big dance scenes and the large-scale exteriors. ...
A 'historical' film must be sufficiently true to what is known about the people and the period, so authenticity in such a film is a virtue. But there is another imperative: the profit motive. Cinema is an art, but it is also a business: a product is created and has to be sold. People will not usually part with their hard-earned to acquire something they have never heard of and that is not like anything they've seen before. There must be elements of familiarity and recognisability—and so we have the notion of genre. My argument is that the makers of this 'historical' film have fitted their selection of the facts into the genres—crime noir, investigative thriller—that they thought would give the project an exciting spin.
Elizabeth (Shekhar Kapur, 1998)
reviews | Garry Gillard | New: 28 February, 2017 | Now: 28 February, 2017