Diana's heavenly shadow over the Palace,
and royal tradition at a crossroads
PopcornReel.com Movie Review: "The Queen"
By Omar P.L. Moore/October 15, 2006
Dame Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, with
Sylvia Sims behind her as The Queen Mother, in Stephen Frears' "The Queen".
Mirren ironically played Sylvia Sims' role (as Queen Elizabeth I) in an HBO
film, earlier this year. (Photo: Laurie Sparham/Miramax Films)
With "The Queen" the venerable British director Stephen Frears
has not only made a film with all the wickedly satirical bite of a sledgehammer,
he has made an often funny movie that features Dame Helen Mirren in what will be
an Oscar-winning performance next March. (That's a humble guarantee.)
Mirren plays Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and looks remarkably like the
real-life Queen. Mirren's comportment, diction, demure and mannerisms echo
the stoicism and staidness of one of the West's last monarchs.
The story itself is about the week of turmoil that engulfed Buckhingham Palace
as the British public and the rest of the world grieved and mourned the loss of
Diana, Princess of Wales, a free and independent spirit whose openness and
warmth was at odds with the centuries of royal tradition. Diana's death on
the 31st of August 1997 shook the world and even Mother Teresa's subsequent
death in that following week was overshadowed by the memories of Diana.
The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family was slow to react to the untimely
death of Princess Diana and her beau Dodi Fayed, and this reticence both stirred
and angered the British public and the press, which demanded that Elizabeth
express her condolences and emotion. Almost co-incidentally, the
recently-elected new prime minister of the country, Tony Blair of the Labor
Party, had led in the initial responses to the public in tribute to the beloved
Diana, dubbing her "The People's Princess."
What is particularly special and noteworthy about "The Queen" is that although
Diana's shadow looms large and heavenly over the film in real-life news and
video footage, it is the relationship between new and old that is important.
Specifically the relationship between the new prime minister, a man just three
months into his job, and the Queen, a woman more than three decades into hers.
This relationship is the key to the film, and makes for solid character drama
where a documentary may have turned Frears' film down a different avenue.
Michael Sheen is very good as Prime Minister Blair -- he looks like him and acts
as he does, yes, but he also conveys strength in his position as an advisor to
the ruling monarch even as he has his own doubts and confidences about how the
public will react to the Queen and how he himself will fare in his own position
in politics. Sheen overshadows the prime minister's own insecurities by
going at the Queen gently, persuading her to make herself available to the
public, while he at the same time rips royal tradition behind her back, and
delivers the film's best line: "somebody save these people from themselves!"
True enough, the Queen concedes that a shift in generations and the winds of
change in England are blowing in a conversation with her mother The Queen Mother
(Sylvia Sims) and with the press, public and prime minister pressure mounting,
the Queen makes a speech commending Diana as a special and gifted individual.
This unprecedented breaking with royal tradition is probably the hardest thing
that the real Queen had to do, and Mirren makes it a painful ordeal as well,
even if it appears concealed. Emotion is not the most popular attribute
for any British royal, but Mirren manages to convey humor, melancholy and
doubts, making her Queen a very human figure beneath the ice-cold, passionless
veneer that she projects in her official duties. Peter Morgan, who wrote
the film's sharp and witty screenplay, drops more than a few delectable lines,
lines that become ever so timely with this film's release. One of the
significant lines that draws chuckles from audiences is near the end where
Mirren's Queen says to Sheen's Blair something to the effect of the following:
"one of these days Mr. Blair, you'll understand what being unpopular is all
The real Mr. Blair, whether he has seen this film or not, has received the
message loud and clear.
The other performers in this comedy/drama are very good. James Cromwell is
terrific as an acerbic Prince Phillip, while Alex Jennings is near flawless as
Prince Charles. Helen McCrory plays Cherie Blair and does well in the
limited screen time she enjoys. "The Queen" is an enjoyable and
entertaining 97 minutes of light farce, humor, satirical jousting and
interesting character relationships. It's worth watching for several
reasons, including the poking of fun at the officiousness of the British Royal
Family and its day-to-day business. Watch out for those Corgis!
"The Queen" opened on October 6 in New York and Los Angeles,
and was shown on opening night at both the New York Film Festival and the Mill
Valley Film Festival in California. The film opened on Friday in several
west coast cities and is making its way around the rest of America. The
film is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for brief
strong language. As indicated earlier, the film runs for 1 hour and 37
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