Diana, the "People's Princess" has died in a car accident in Paris. The Queen (Dame Helen Mirren) and her family decide that for the best, they should remain hidden behind the closed doors of Balmoral Castle. The heartbroken public do not understand and request that the Queen comforts her people. This also puts pressure on newly elected Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), who constantly tries to convince the monarchy to address the public.Written by
Although the Queen has never voted, she is entitled to vote. See more »
The Tuesday meeting in the Chancellor's office is at 10 am, and Blair's aide returns to say it lasted "two and a half hours". Yet, back at Balmoral, it is morning and everyone is preparing to leave to flush the buck when the faxed memorandum reporting on the results of the meeting arrives. See more »
After weeks of campaigning on the road, Tony Blair and his family finally strolled the few hundred yards to the polling station this election day morning. Amongst the Labour faithful up and down the country, there is an enormous sense of pride in Mr. Blair's achievements, and the confidence that he is about to become the youngest prime minister this century.
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Of't in the Stilly Night
Performed by Peter Anderson See more »
Howling Hysterical Sorrow
At the time of Princess Diana's funeral I remember thinking that, instead of rewriting "Candle in the Wind", Elton John should simply have performed a song from "Evita"- the one that asks the questions "Why all this howling hysterical sorrow? What kind of goddess has lived among us? How will we ever get by without her?" Tim Rice's lyrics were, of course, originally written about Eva Peron, but they could equally well have been written about the British public's over-reaction to Diana's death.
Those sentiments were not popular ones in September 1997, but they should not be taken as implying that I have any particular axe to grind against either the Monarchy in general or Diana in particular. Republicanism is simply another manifestation of our regrettable tendency to jump on American bandwagons (in this particular case two hundred years too late), and I have always thought that King Charles III and Queen Diana might have made a formidable Royal couple. Charles the Head, with his intellectual interests in spirituality and the environment, and Diana the Heart, with her spontaneous human warmth and touch of sex appeal, could both have brought qualities to the Monarchy which it has sometimes lacked in the past. Unfortunately, their wildly contrasting characters, which could have made them such a great Royal team had they been able to avoid washing their dirty linen in public, made it impossible for them to live together as a married couple. The woman we buried on that September morning nine years ago was no longer Our Future Queen but rather the dead mistress of a millionaire Egyptian playboy.
This film is not about the life of Diana (there is a great film to be made on that subject, but it has not yet been made and probably will not be for a number of years). Nor does it attempt to analyse exactly why her death should have provoked such hysteria, including not only hysterical sorrow but also hysterical anger against the Royal Family. I suspect that the main culprit was the media which, exercising the harlot's privilege of power without responsibility, had over the years built Diana into (to borrow another phrase from "Evita") "a cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint". The press found itself under criticism when the paparazzi in its employ were implicated in her death, and needed to divert the public's anger onto a new target. Given, however, the incestuous interdependence of the media world, where press barons own shares in television and film companies, film-makers are often reluctant to subject the Fourth Estate to too much scrutiny.
This is, rather, an examination of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her Prime Minister Tony Blair and of the roles played by them in the events following Diana's death. The two are sharply contrasted, but the contrast is not one of ideology. The Queen is constitutionally obliged to remain politically impartial and Blair, who moved New Labour into the centre ground and away from its traditional attachment to Socialism and class-based politics, is probably less likely to harbour anti-monarchist sentiments than many earlier Labour politicians. (The Old Labour republicanism attributed to Cherie Blair in this film looks very old-fashioned). Rather, the contrast between them is that between differing temperaments and, even more, between different generations.
The Queen is the representative of the older generation, a believer in tradition, in dignity and emotional restraint. She sees no need to rush back to London from Scotland (the Royal Family traditionally spend late summer on their Balmoral estate) or to fly the Union Jack at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. (Tradition decrees that only the Royal Standard, which denotes the presence of the Monarch and is never flown at half-mast, can fly over the Palace). She is sympathetic to the Spencer family's wish that Diana should be given a private funeral. Blair, on the other hand, represents the younger generation- he is a believer in innovation and change rather than tradition and more sensitive to the public mood. His politician's instincts tell him that the Royal Family's attitude represents a public relations disaster in the making, and tries to persuade the Queen to return to London, to fly the flag and to grant Diana the official funeral for which the public are clamouring.
Michael Sheen bears a close resemblance to the Tony Blair of nine years ago, and has clearly studied him closely in order to catch his every gesture and nuance. I was not, however, particularly impressed by his performance. He seemed to have fallen into the trap of watching his subject too closely, becoming a mimic rather than an actor. I felt that I was watching an impressionist of the Mike Yarwood or Rory Bremner school impersonating Blair rather than an actor playing him in a serious drama. Some of the members of the Royal Family, such as James Cromwell's Prince Philip and Sylvia Syms's Queen Mother, seemed one-dimensional figures, based upon popular preconceptions rather than any attempt to create rounded characters. Alex Jennings's Prince Charles was rather contradictory; at times he seemed the most sympathetic of the Royals, at others weak and cowardly.
By far the best performance came from Helen Mirren as the Queen. In the past she has chosen some rather dubious vehicles for her undoubted talent (notoriously "Caligula"), but this is one of her most assured performances of recent years. Her Elizabeth II emerges as a very human and sympathetic individual as she and Blair, despite their many differences, discover a growing respect for one another's point of view. In many ways, this subject would have been more suitable for a TV drama than a cinema release. Mirren, however, always makes it worth watching. 7/10
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