Cate Blanchett in ‘Oscar and Lucinda’

One of Cate Blanchett’s earliest films, Oscar and Lucinda finds her working in Australia with Gillian Armstrong and Ralph Fiennes. It’s an odd, eccentric but very feminist tale.

HostMurtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Andy Stewart.

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What is the film about?

 From imdb: In mid-1800s England, Oscar, a young Anglican priest, and Lucinda, a teen-aged Australian heiress, are both passionate gamblers. Lucinda bets Oscar her entire inheritance that he cannot transport a glass church to the Outback safely, and this leads to the events that will change both their lives forever.

What year did it come out?

December 1997.

Who does Cate play?

Lucinda, an heiress obsessed with glass and gambling and who has an almost desperate desire to liberate her sex from the confines of the male-dominated culture of the Australia of that time.

How is Cate introduced?

13 minutes in the pond speaking French. 

Box Office: Domestic = $1.8M   Int’l = Unknown.

Metacritic : 66. RT: 66.


Topics discussed:

  • Chemistry with Ralph Fiennes. Funny that their paths never crossed again.
  • Cate in love stories. Always weird, this is one and Benjamin Button was another. Why?
  • Costumes by Oscar nominated Janet Patterson (The Piano, Far From the Madding Crowd).
  • Lucinda as a feminist character to be admired.
  • Gilliam Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career – another headstrong feminist heroine. Role was originally meant for Judy Davis.
  •  Has a strange combination of b plot themes and tones:  rape and murder of indigenous Australian people, religious themes. It starts as a love story, becomes a grim sorta war story  while telling the from cradle to grave life story of the titular characters.
  • The whole Oscar trip without Lucinda was weird and tried my patience.
  • They meet almost 40 minutes into the film, then they are separated for the last 40, it is a strange conceit for what is a maybe love story.
  • Cate and Richard Roxburgh – who plays the villian – have acted together many times on stage.

Memorable quotes:

In order that I exist, two gamblers, one obsessive, one compulsive, must meet.” 

Costumes we loved:

They look right for the period though not memorable. More memorable is that they are roughed up and tousled, don’t look pristine like stuffy costume dramas.

Fiennes, Blanchett and Armstrong on set

 Scenes we liked:

The confession scene where Oscar and Lucinda “lay their cards on the table” is exhilarating and fun. Played for comedy and both actors are playing several notes.

What seemed off:

Mash up of tones which made it interesting if not entirely successful.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  •  Her second film post Paradise Road (1997).
  • Shekhar Kapur saw stills or scenes from it and cast her in Elizabeth (1998), ultimately leading to her breakout and huge career.
  • Seems to have a small passionate following among Cate’s fans, though not broadly remembered in the culture.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Ms. Blanchett, whose strength and vivacity recall the young Judy Davis ”My Brilliant Career,” is appealingly well teamed with Mr. Fiennes, who manages to make Oscar as bashfully likable as he is quaint. ’ – Janet Maslin, NYTimes

Ralph Fiennes plays Oscar, an odd Anglican minister addicted to the thrills of wagering; Cate Blanchett is his soul mate, Lucinda — the kind of warm-blooded feminist that may be Armstrong’s most important contribution to the image of women on screen.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum EW

Press coverage other than reviews:

Armstrong to NYTimes on why she chose Cate for the part: “We were looking for someone who wasn’t quite conventional. Cate has this slightly magic quality, as if she can be transported into other worlds.’

Promotional appearances:

New York premiere December 1997.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Elizabeth’

For our first episode of the podcast, we review Elizabeth (1998), directed by Shekar Kapur. This film is considered to be Cate Blanchett’s international breakout and the first time many people have ever seen her on screen.

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Teo Bugbee, some of Teo’s film writing can be found here.

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What is the film about?

From imdb: The early years of the reign of Elizabeth I of England and her difficult task of learning what is necessary to be a monarch.

Directed by Shekar Kapur; also starring Richard Attenborough, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Emily Mortimer, Kelly McDonald and Daniel Craig.

What year did it come out?

1998 – first played at Venice in September. US limited release in November 1998, wide in February post Oscar nominations.

Who does Cate Blanchett play?

Duh – top billed. 

How is Cate introduced?

7 minutes in, dancing in a field among her ladies in waiting.

Box Office: Domestic = $30,082,699 (36.6%), Int’l = $52,067,943 (63.4%).

Coronation time for Blanchett as Elizabeth I

Topics discussed:

  • Then vs now. Seen then as a new transformative dynamic violent and sexy take on history; different spin than usual polite masterpiece theater drama. That take doesn’t hold as much now since we’ve seen many other historical dramas and of that story in particular.
  • Historical veracity :  “I had to make a choice whether I wanted the details of history or the emotions and essence of history to prevail,” said Kapur.
  • Cate made a point in interviews at the time that this was an interpretation of English history made by outsiders from the commonwealth; an Indian and an Australian.
  • Elizabeth growing up into a wily politician; does the performance get us there? Are the behind the scenes political machinations the reason this film was resonant at the time?
  • The tone of the other performances e.g Vincent Cassel.
  • Joseph Fiennes vs Ralph Fiennes.
  • Is it camp? 
  • The Godfather (1972) comparison – many reviews pointed that out, and Kapur himself admitted that he modeled the ending after it. 
  • The gestural quality of Cate’s performance particularly in the quiet scenes where she thinking or wistfully looking at the distance. 
  • The ending is memorable and plays well with the image we know of Elizabeth.
  • Anne Hathaway on Cate – “It changed my life (Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth). There’s a scene where she does this little nose sniff and, I swear to God, I spent the first 6 years of my on-camera career trying to reproduce it. I never succeeded. People kept saying ‘Do you need a tissue?’
  • How the film compares with another film about European royalty, Queen Margot (1994).
  • There’s a lot of conversations about Elizabeth being a woman in a man’s role. What is the film trying to tell us?

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • International breakout. Probably the first time many people – including me – saw her. 
  • Cemented her reputation as somebody to watch, someone who will have a long career and is a star actor. Don’t think anyone would watch it now for any other reason.

Awards: Nominated for 7 Oscars: Best Picture, Cate, Makeup ( Jenny Shircore won), Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design, Score. 

  • Cate won Golden Globe and Bafta.
  • It was the Oscars of 2 Elizabethan movies (also Skakespeare in Love).
  • Whoopi Goldberg came out dressed as Elizabeth at the Oscars “I am the African queen, some know me as the virgin queen… I don’t know who.”

More on Elizabeth and the 1998 Oscar race for best actress.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Blanchett’s triumph is to create a thoroughly convincing depiction of the journey from canoodling girlhood to the threshold of an imperial monarchy, battling her fears, shedding illusions, absorbing pain, learning judgment, turning anxiety into resolution, acquiring steel and sinew.”- The Guardian.

the captivating Cate Blanchett rules England in “Elizabeth” as if the monarch’s principal responsibilities were being bejeweled, choosing consorts and saying “Leave us!” with a wave of the hand.” – Janet Maslin NY Times.

More from Maslin “Ms. Blanchett, who was marvelous in “Oscar and Lucinda,” brings spirit, beauty and substance to what might otherwise have been turned into a vacuous role. Still, it’s jarring when the Queen dances in the midst of admirers as if this were “Saturday Night Fever” or sounds an awful lot like Tootsie when she declares: “I may be a woman, Sir William. But if I choose, I have the heart of a man!” Ms. Blanchett’s flouncing Elizabeth is bolstered by an impressive supporting cast, though the secondary characters engage in so many schemes that you may wish Bill, that nice new playwright from Avon, would drop into the film and make more sense of the dramaturgy.

Blanchett as Elizabeth delivering one of many monologues in the film

But there’s more hot blood running through the veins of this opulent production than its A&E-style subject matter might suggest. This is a sensual, psychologically modern costume drama influenced by both The Godfather and gals’ guides to empowerment; beneath the finery of these schemers beat hearts as up-to-date as any on a TV drama, assuming a TV story line allows for beheadings.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

What it gets right is the performance by Cate Blanchett, who was so good as the poker-playing glass manufacturer in “Oscar and Lucinda” (1997) and here uncannily comes to resemble the great monarch. She is saucy and heedless at first, headstrong when she shouldn’t be, but smart, and able to learn. By the end she has outsmarted everyone and become one of the rare early female heads of state to rule successfully without an alliance with a man.” – Roger Ebert

Elizabeth” is superior historical soap opera that shrewdly side steps all the cliches of British costume drama with its bold, often modern approach.”- David Rooney, Variety.

Cate Blanchett at the 1999 Oscars

Press coverage other than reviews; NY Times profile:

Mr. Kapur, speaking on the phone from Delhi, said: ”Cate has a combination of strength and vulnerability, which, for me, is what Elizabeth was all about. She attacks a role with a ferocious intellectuality. You can’t pass anything by her, you can’t sweet-talk her into anything. But inside, she is all emotion.”

This vigor also struck Eccleston, who, as the Duke of Norfolk, plays one of Elizabeth I’s chief adversaries. ”There is a directness and gutsiness about Australian women that is great for the film industry, and that was great for Cate playing the monarch,” he said. ”I think that role would have defeated a lot of our middle-class English roses.”

Not many other in the archive… there’s a lot of coverage in 1999 and 2000; post her big breakout when she was appointed as the next big thing because of Elizabeth.

Closing Quote:

Brenda Blethyn at the Golden Globes where Cate won; she was nominated for Little Voice.

I only went to see Elizabeth (1998) because of Cate Blanchett. I thought she was absolutely fabulous and I was delighted she won. I think she’s a fabulous actress. I’m not altogether sure about the film but I did enjoy it, primarily because of her… she’s fantastic.”

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