With some books and movies, it’s just not the main hero that makes a lasting impression, but one of the lesser characters: because of the actor’s performance, because of the depth of the scene, because of his or her looks…

One of those characters that made a big impression on Tolkien readers and movie audiences across the globe is Galadriel, Lady of the Golden Wood. Despite her brief appearance in both book (only 37 out of 535 pages) and movie (she is featured in a total of four scenes, including the Prologue which she narrates); she is one of the main attractions of Fellowship of the Ring, for all of the reasons stated above.

Cate Blanchett’s performance, as many others in Fellowship Of the Ring, is outstanding and definitely Oscar material. If her portrayal of Queen Elisabeth I was stunning, than the emotional depth she adds to Lady Galadriel is even more impressive because Blanchett had less to work with but did a better job at filling each second she’s on screen with layers of meaning.

The Prologue already is a good example of this: when you first enter the movie you don’t know yet it’s Galadriel telling this story – and you just listen to the words, enjoy the beautiful pronunciation and the excellent delivery and focus on the content. But when you listen at the Prologue narration knowing that this is not just anyone speaking, but the Lady Galadriel herself, the entire experience changes.

Because this is not just someone telling a story, but an eyewitness report: although Blanchett’s accent and voice sound strangely detached, she was there when it all happened. She bears one of the Rings of Power. This already points ahead at something we’ll see later, namely the fact that although she seems to be kind and caring, she is also impossibly cold and cool: testing all the Fellowship members, tormenting Boromir, taking all hope away from Frodo…
Galadriel is not the typical modern day female character: she is a very rational figure, who learned ages ago that emotional choices might not prove the wisest ones. She knows her duties come first and only after making sure Frodo understands what his task is (to travel alone and trust no one) does she melt a bit.

She is a great and powerful Queen, wise beyond the measure of many; but when she speaks of the Ring in this narration you can already sense her fear of it. Because she is wise, she understands fully what it is that is at hand: not only a test of her own character (which is what she passes when she denies the Ring) but a test of the strength of all Middle-earth.
Galadriel is both ancient and immortal; she has the strength of youth but is drowning in the melancholy, weariness and possibly even despair that comes with watching your world and work decay year after year, age after age. Every second of her life is suspended in a never-ending now, and dreadful eternity of struggle and turmoil – by her own doings (the Ring of Adamant which is on her finger has the gift to freeze time, something expressed by Jackson in the slow speech and slow movements of the characters in Lórien).

All these aspects of her character are in the narration at some level, and it is amazing that Blanchett managed to pull this off. A lot of an actor’s performance has to do with body language, facial expressions, costumes, lighting and positions between characters. To convey so much of a character with only a voice is – as far as I know – unique.

Of course, Blanchett’s performance wouldn’t have been this impressive if it hadn’t been for the fact that this character, as written by J.R.R. Tolkien, was already one of the most intriguing and complex characters in the entire trilogy.
Galadriel, at the moment when the Fellowship meet her, has already lived a long life. In fact, she is living and breathing history. Tolkien managed to give readers enough information (or little enough information) to get this feeling across in those few pages in Fellowship Of the Ring – but people who read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales know that Tolkien didn’t just create some mystery around her.
All the traits I enlisted above, were already present in the books and although Boyens, Walsh and Jackson couldn’t possibly convey these things in words or dialogue, they did attempt at adding the historical background to the character: they gave her the prologue, showed Nenya, gave her dialogue in an aristocratic and old-fashioned syntax and provided her with some of the most beautiful lines of the movie.
All this to say that

But there is more: Peter Jackson and his team used a lot of visual tricks to bring the character of Galadriel to life, the most famous one being Galadriel’s light: close ups of Galadriel’s eyes when the Fellowship are introduced to the Lord and Lady of the Wood show many white lights reflecting in her eyes. This is something Tolkien described in the book, and that was picked up by the lighting team – and it gives Blanchett’s figure an extra something.

But even without this light, the sheer look of the Elvish Queen would have been enough to trick an audience into a certain perception: Galadriel is tall and slender, with an extremely pale skin and delicate but still strong features. Her hair reflects not only the gold of the sun and the fading summer but also the gold of the mallorn leaves.
She is clad in a very simple but unique white dress and cloak, with not one jewel adorning her but her (invisible) Ring. A woman who doesn’t need anything fancy because it couldn’t increase her beauty or the terrible power of her appearance.
White for purity and a reference maybe to the angels Tolkien’s Elves get compared to so often; but perhaps also to indicate that for Galadriel it is always winter.

The three scenes in which Galadriel is featured, are also directed in a manner that makes her the central character – even when she is not.
When the Fellowship are welcomed in Caras Galadhon, note how Galadriel looks slightly taller than Celeborn. She is also lighted out better and is on the right of the screen, from where the camera comes in so she is closer to the audience.
In the Mirror of Galadriel-scene, she comes out more illuminated than Frodo, who is a little less lighted out. More attention is drawn to details of her appearance (her bare feet, the Ring on her finger, her hand when it is stretched out). On the whole, there are more close-ups of Galadriel than of Celeborn, Frodo or any of the members of the Fellowship.

All this leads to the character of Galadriel being the focal point of a large part of the second half of the movie, something that is enhanced by the fact that nothing half as impressive happens until Boromir tries to take the Ring – so the impact her character has on the audience has time to grow. This is not so for Arwen, for instance, who is swiftly pushed aside for new information and new characters and therefor doesn’t make as big an impression as Galadriel.

[Why did I write this? Because I have always found it interesting to see how directors influence their audiences; and because I know the books very well I can also say which things are added by Peter Jackson and his team, and which were originally Tolkien. A movie is as much a work of art as a sculpture or a symphony, but most of the time critics don’t see the use in analyses like these. Which is pretty awful, in my honest opinion.]