After the death of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II struggles with her reaction to a sequence of events nobody could have predicted.After the death of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II struggles with her reaction to a sequence of events nobody could have predicted.After the death of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II struggles with her reaction to a sequence of events nobody could have predicted.
Then, on August 31, Princess Diana, recently divorced from Prince Charles, was killed in a high speed auto accident in midtown Paris. The film's story turns on how various echelons of British society reacted following Diana's death. Dramatized are many vignettes that bring together the major personalities at the center of the highly public dilemma that unfolded in the few days following Diana's passing.
Helen Mirren was, as they say, born to play Queen Elizabeth II. In every tableau, in every body movement, in every nuanced shift in feeling she conveys to us, with or without words, she is simply majestic. But this movie is far more than a showcase, a star vehicle, for Ms. Mirren. Each of the major supporting players, portraying some prominent person, is superb. Besides The Queen, we have The Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms), Prince Philip (James Cromwell), Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), Mr. Blair (Michael Sheen), and their respective retainers, playing out at close range their responses to one another, within the framework of a taut cultural and political crisis, one that is, above all else, a threat to public support of the Monarchy.
This drama takes place in an enervating, though also suppressed, emotional atmosphere, the tension level constantly ratcheted up by the principals' responses to pressures from the public and the press. (Of course the accuracy of the depictions is open to some question at least, and, in addition, there is the insurmountable problem that no one knows for sure the full truth about many of the rumored conversations -discussions that might or might not have transpired among these people - that are dramatized here. It is fair to say that the actors have magnificently sculpted their characterizations to fit the common perceptions of these celebrities in the public eye.
But there's more: I haven't yet touched on the main reason that I think this movie will be considered a classic decades from now. That is it's overarching subtext, not about individual personalities, but about a deep change in the very fabric of social custom signaled by events after Diana's death, especially in Britain, but also in the U. S. and other "anglophilic" "developed" nations. The point is made crystal clear in the film: Elizabeth's seemingly callous aloofness from the public in the wake of Diana's death is the result of her conviction, based on her upbringing, that duty must come first, that stoicism is the face one shows the world, while personal feelings are an entirely private matter, hence not to be aired in public. One must soldier on. Stiff upper lip. The English way.
According to this film narrative, Queen Elizabeth makes a serious miscalculation when she fails to consider, or perhaps even to perceive, the fact that the terms of public discourse - perhaps especially with regard to the open expression of personal sentiments - have changed radically around the world. Frank disclosure of personal feelings and issues once considered taboo for public consumption, emotional "witnessing," and even mass catharsis, have for many become the norm, displacing public stoicism, in response to poignant events. We know this from many lines of evidence, of course: confessional literature and film; the outpourings of personal tragedy and conflict on "Oprah" and a host of clone television and radio shows, and so on. But the Royals' cloistered existence very probably has always shielded them from accurately gauging the pulse of popular societal changes.
Never in recent times had there been such a worldwide wave of acute public grief over the loss of a single person, perhaps not since John Kennedy's death, as was the case of Diana, whom so many admired, revered, indeed, loved, even if from afar. The Queen documents with brilliance and power this major sea change in societal conventions, a shift that historians will undoubtedly look back upon as one of the most important and influential quakes in the tectonic annals of civil conduct. My grades: 10/10, A (Seen on 11/29/06).
- Nov 30, 2006