The Queen (2006)
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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).
Director Stephen Frears, using a superb script by Peter Morgan, details the time from the election of Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair (a brilliant Michael Sheen) to that momentous international outpouring of grief and love that followed the tragic death of Princess Di in 1997, showing the bifurcation of response between the Royals and the People as represented by Blair. Instead of the insensitive cold figure that the world witnessed as QE II, Mirren shows us that the woman who is Queen actually had feelings for her grandchildren, a respect for her station as royalty, and was gradually responsive to the cry of the people via Blair's influence, allowing the world to pay proper tribute to a heroine. The ogres in the Balmoral Castle were in fact Prince Phillip (James Cromwell) and the Queen Mum (Sylvia Syms) abetted by the very proper Robin Janvrin (Roger Allam) and the wishy washy Prince Charles (Alex Jennings).
The entire production is beautifully filmed with the use of clips from Princess Di's life (and death) instead of creating an actress role to portray her - a very wise choice. The musical score by Alexandre Desplat is superb (with a little help from Verdi's 'Libera Me' as sung by Lynn Dawson and the BBC chorus for the funeral portion). But indeed the accolades go to Helen Mirren in an Oscar worthy performance - with the very strong counterbalance by Michael Sheen. An excellent film about a moment no one will ever forget. Grady Harp
Director Stephen Frears recreates one week in 1997 with intelligent, deft strokes. The presentation of Princess Diana is artfully done in news snippets and archive footage, which brilliantly demonstrates the high impact her being had on people. The design of The Queen's home and her surroundings are convincing without being overly showy, and the Alexandre Desplat score is by turns dark, sad, and grand, perfectly summarizing the mindset of those involved.
But the film belongs to Helen Mirren, who takes on of her most challenging roles and showing us that behind the Queen lay a person, and one with feelings. In her role as the reigning lady, she is the epitome of suppressed disappointment and hurt. The Queen chose not to make a parade of her feelings in response to Diana's death, and, though the nation hated her for it, we learn here that it is not because she did not care, but because she honestly thought it the right thing to do.
As a young and newly elected Tony Blair with big aspirations and an even bigger grin, Michael Sheen is freakishly good as the Prime Minister. His performance shows a likable side of the prime minister in his refusal to side with the public over the denouncement of The Queen for her actions, and his attempts to make The Queen limit the damage that she has made is the basis for a very insightful story.
Other delights in this film come in some high-brow one-liners and some other good performances, but the best thing about it is how it manages to make you think, and even empathise with a group of people that you never saw yourself giving a toss about. At under 100 minutes, The Queen is funny, pointed and highly intelligent, showing that, as always, there are two sides to every story.
Diana had skillfully manipulated the media to form an image of herself combining Demi Moore and Mother Teresa. And she was still associated with the royal family, and appeared as wronged by them. You don't turn your back on that. You eat humble pie and play catch-up. But a monarch isn't tutored in such strategies.
No flag flew at half mast over Buckingham Palace, because that flagpole was used only for the royal flag, to show if anyone was home, and they were all at Balmoral, being private in their grief, avoiding publicity, and protecting the boys.
The Queen as seen here and imagined with enthusiasm by Morgan is not as witty as Alan Bennett's Queen, in her last on screen recreation, in A Question of Attribution (directed by John Schlesinger, 1992), nor does the estimable Ms. Mirren (who's nonetheless very fine) have the buoyancy of Prunella Scales in Schlesinger's film. But she is witheringly cold toward Tony Blair, all foolish smiles on his first official visit to the Palace. (Blair's played by Michael Sheen, who's experienced at this game.) As Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian, "Mirren's Queen meets him with the unreadable smile of a chess grandmaster, facing a nervous tyro. She begins by reminding him that she has worked with 10 prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill, 'sitting where you are now'. As put-downs go, that's like pulling a lever and watching a chandelier fall on your opponent's head." Fully recognizing the crucial importance of the British monarchy, this film is tartly reserved about both sides of the game. The royal family don't like "call me Tony." And Blair's wife Cherie is a bit ungainly in her blatantly anti-monarchy attitudes. But when Blair sees how Elizabeth's coldness and invisibility is angering the fans of Dady Di the media queen, the "People's Princess" -- alienating her own subjects en masse, he steps in and persuades them to leave Balmoral and look at the thousands of flowers for Di piled in front of the Palance with their humiliating notes; then deliver a "tribute" to Di on TV. The formal grandeur of the film inherent in its subject matter the Prime Minister and the royal family is offset by its ironies and by the intimacy of the tennis match that develops in communications back and forth by telephone.
This movie is ultimately kind to Blair and to the Queen. It makes us feel sorry for Elizabeth, whom Blair comes to defend (against some of his cockier associates, not to mention his wife) with ardor. In Peter Morgan's second imagined interview with Blair the Queen coolly observes that he confuses "humility" with "humiliation" (he hasn't seen the nasty notes on the bunches of flowers for Diana); and she sees his kindness as merely due to seeing that what has happened to her could happen to him as quickly. As for Blair, the Brits may have little use for him now, but the filmmakers acted out of the belief that this week when he averted disaster on behalf of the monarchy was his "finest hour." Frears has had a varied career, with high points second to few, concentrated in the decade of the Eighties after he came off doing a lot of television. These finest hours include My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Grifters. For a while there it looked like he could do anything, then more as if he would; but he's admirably willing to try new, as well as dirty, pretty, things, The Queen is dignified, but contemporary. It's bustling and grand. Loud music and vivid performances help. Mirren's Elizabeth is more of the Queen and less of the Queen than Prulella Scales' briefer performance. Bennett's Queen was very clever. Morgan's is sad and noble. The Queen, which is dignified, but contemporary, shows where the Brits are now, and the effect of Lady Di. QEII, like QEI and Victoria before her, has had an extraordinarily long and successful reign, half a century (obviously Mirren is younger than the actual Queen.) But with these events, with this crucial week, the days of her generation essentially ended.
There's a symbolic fourteen-point stag at Balmoral the men are interested in. James Cromwell's brusque, lordly Prince Philip will do nothing but take the boys hunting, to get them outside. In the end a corporate banker kills the stag on a neighbor's property, and only Elizabeth sees it, when she's stranded in a jeep she's driven into the mud, and crying.
For all its ceremony and noise, loneliness and wit, mostly The Queen simply tells a story, the new story of English royalty at the end of the twentieth century. It was a story worth telling, and it's told well.
Normally I am careful not to give away the ending of a movie in a comment. In this case, the story and the ending are already known. In 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris trying to escape from the paparazzi. This was about a year after her divorce with Prince Charles. Great Britain and the world mourned her loss in a surprisingly large way. It was as if Princess Diana was an assassinated world political or spiritual leader.
The royal family did not initially react to her death in a human or sensitive way. They alternately said it was a private affair or Princess Diana was no longer royalty since the divorce or we are protecting Princess Diana's two sons or let us grieve alone. But, they were coming off as cold and standoffish to the English people and they were causing the monarchy system to become unpopular and even despised. In steps the new young Prime Minister, Tony Blair, influences Queen Elizabeth II to mourn in public and bring a humanity to the English monarchy.
The real story is the journey of Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II to get to this final destination.
It is hard to separate what is fact and what is made-up in this film. Many facts are certain because you see historical footage of the bunches of cut flowers growing in front of Buckingham Palace and the then President Clinton making a statement and many clips of Princess Diane throughout her life. But the many behind-the-scenes conversations had to be invented or recalled, so it has to be part fiction and part fact.
The monarchy is not treated kindly in this film. Prince Philip comes off as insensitive and a bearer of grudges. Prince Charles appears to be weak. Queen Elizabeth II, played brilliantly by Helen Mirren, comes off as reserved and complicated. And Tony Blair, played convincingly by Michael Sheen, trumps the royalty by being real and wise and likable.
The storytelling is compelling. Even though you know what will happen, you are intrigued by how the characters get to their ultimate positions.
In the end, Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair display a profound love for their country. It is really a story about public dignitaries trying to do the right thing for their country and their families.
FYI There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where you can find a listing of past Crystal Heart Award winners as well as other Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
"The Queen", then, is not some purposeful account of the facts surrounding the death of Princess Diana as seen from the Royal, (and Prime Ministerial), perspective as a wonderfully human comedy hewn from a national and a private tragedy. And at it's heart, and what really makes it work, is a devastatingly accurate study, not simply of a Monarch we all feel we 'know' from endless television footage, but of a deeply private woman struggling to maintain her own personal dignity in the midst of immense public scrutiny, and Helen Mirren's performance is really quite extraordinary. She has the looks and the mannerisms off pat but more significantly she cuts to the quick of the private individual and unearths the human being inside the Queen. This is great acting which I have no doubt will be rewarded with every prize going come the year's end, (and anyone unfamiliar with Mirren's work who thinks, perhaps, that this is largely just a brilliant piece of mimicry should seek out her very different but equally brilliant performance on television as the present Queen's namesake Elizabeth 1).
The biggest glittering prize most likely to come Mirren's way is, of course, the Oscar and amid the ballyhoo surrounding her performance, Michael Sheen's brilliant turn as Tony Blair has been mostly overlooked. Sheen, too, gives an award-worthy turn as our present Prime Minister, again capturing, not just the look and the mannerisms, but also the arrogance that comes with youth and success and, more importantly, the humility that finally comes with understanding. Sheen gets closer to the 'real' Blair in those moments when he isn't saying anything at all.
Neither Alex Jennings nor James Cromwell look anything Princes Charles and Philip but they manage to capture the essence of the men. (Jennings is particularly good at getting that vacant look of Charles' that says to many people, 'Is there anyone at home?'). And there's a lovely, beautifully understated performance by Roger Allam as the Queen's Private Secretary.
Of course, it is almost as unlikely we will ever know what the people portrayed in the film think of it as it is we will ever know how close Mirren has come to 'getting it right' but I defy anyone to condemn the film on the grounds of either taste or accuracy. What matters isn't how real this film is, (it isn't a documentary, after all), but how closely those involved have come to capturing the hearts and minds of the people on the screen. Judged on this basis, "The Queen" is an unqualified triumph.
"The Queen," sifts through that week of high drama to tell an elegant and quintessentially British story about our values and our expectations of the family people love to hate. Helen Mirren looks every inch The Queen of England and quite exceptionally captures a portrayal of the woman by investing her with a heartfelt dignity, conviction and humanity, that the real Queen should be nothing less than flattered by. Mirren secured herself that Oscar the moment production wrapped; she is truly sensational, carrying us through the whole movie with a grace we rarely see on the big screen these days. Michael Sheen is also to be praised for his uncanny impression of Tony Blair, although he scratches deeper than just surface imitation and digs deep to unearth the once idealistic, and seemingly honourable Prime Minister in the early days of his premiership. Support also comes courtesy of a terrific James Cromwell who adds that light touch of comic relief in the role of Prince Philip, while Mark Bazeley as Alistair Campbell reminds audiences how instrumentally devious a spin doctor can be. Every performance is spot on and helps do justice to the brilliantly written script by Peter Morgan who somehow has drawn to light the different sides involved in that week of tragedy and media spin without being too intrusive in terms of the grief of Princes William and Harry, while Stephen Frears never turns the stock footage of Diana into something overly ghoulish or unseemly.
Ultimately though, this story is not really about Diana at all, her death merely serving as the catalyst for a deep and painful self-reflection for The Queen on her monarchy and personal aversion to Diana and the circus slowly gathering outside Buckingham palace. Further to that, the film is most sincerely, you could say almost whimsically, about the relationship between The Queen and Tony Blair, their differing views on modern Britain and the general public who populate it. I found myself seeing The Queen and Mr. Blair in quite new lights, putting more faith and respect in the decisions they made in that fateful week, and believing that solidarity, compromise and respect played a key role in laying Diana's memory to rest. It is also very amusing at times too, and when not tickling the ribs with a sardonic sideswipe by Prince Philip or a wry put down by The Queen Mother about Blair's "Cheshire cat grin" Morgan's script and Frears' controlled, beautifully unshowy direction combine to create the most tender and curious of scenes where The Queen encounters a lone stag in the wilds of her estate whilst at her weakest moment, and draws a strength from that rare meeting of beauty up-close. Another gem of a scene is where she is greeted by a little girl who is there not to simply pay her respects to the Princess of Wales, but to the Queen of England herself, with a bouquet of flowers. Very sweet, and very touching.
This truly is a strong piece of work, quite possibly one of the best films of its year, certainly as fine a British production that I have seen in some time. The characters are well drawn and strongly performed, the writing insightful and totally believable, while the warmth of the material makes me think I might start appreciating our Royal family just that little bit more. Certainly if The Queen's emotional wealth of character and strong, traditional values can survive and rise above cynical opportunism and media mined mass hysteria then I'm sure she can survive anything. But above all else "The Queen," goes to show that no matter how unjustly wealthy, obnoxiously powerful or goofily out of touch the Royals may be, as a family unit they are just as complex, dysfunctional and quirky as any other family in Britain. This truly is a royal treat, please do believe the hype and don't let Her Majesty pass you by.
Operating both as a comedy of manners where the newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (an excellent Michael Sheen) must save the Royal Family from themselves before the Monarchy is tossed aside completely by an angry, guilt-ridden public desperately wanting a statement, a word of comfort, or at very least the presence in London of their Queen Elizabeth II (played masterfully by Helen Mirren, who is as cold and stubborn here as she was conflicted and passionate as Elizabeth I in the HBO miniseries of the same name earlier this year), and also as a surprisingly touching testament to the British people's love affair with Princess Diana and more importantly the Monarchy, "The Queen" succeeds splendidly on multiple levels.
Frears combines archival footage of a grieving public and newscasts with intertwining splices of historical recreations and fictionalized riffs on what it must've been like inside the Royal Chambers. The writers get the mannerisms of the Royals down perfect, as people with stiff upper lips who declare their outrage with words like "quite" and "that's not how it's done!" One miscalculation is when the writers try to create a connection between Blair's love for his deceased mother and his newfound sense of protectionism over Elizabeth. It's only surface level, and Freudian, and seems rather out of place in an otherwise totally British film. The rest of the Royals serve as a sideshow, with Prince Charles wimpy and ineffective in the presence of his mother, Prince Phillip (James Cromwell) a rowdy lout, and the Queen Mother (Sylvia Sims) providing equal parts comic relief and aristocratic wisdom to her daughter.
In the end, "The Queen" is a film that sneaks up on you, funnier and more touching than you imagined, and anchored by a classic turn from a consummate British actress as a Queen who desires to understand her people and do them proud while honoring the traditions of her lineage.
Warning, SPOILERS ahead.
The cast is wonderful. Hellen Mirren as Her Majesty The Queen and Michael Sheen as labor Prime Minister Tony Blair are as good as perfect. During the Queen's speech to the nation on live TV I wasn't able to determine if it was Mirren's voice, or the real Queen speaking. Often I found myself thinking that I'm watching archive material from that period's news, but then it turned out that the actors recreated everything! Wow! Both of them carry the movie and Mirren's award from Venice is well deserved. What's interesting, is that there are practically no right or wrong sides of the conflict here. At the beginning Blair is trying to mate with the public, but realizing that by doing this he undermines the monarchy, he is trying to correct the error. The Queen is keeping her ground, not bending to the tabloids demanding royal tributes paid to Diana (lower the royal flag on the mast above the Buckingham Palace, go back to London, live TV speech to the nation something that wasn't done even when the previous king died!); while the Queen wishes to keep the matter private, to deal with it as a family, not The Royal Family, because Diana was no longer a part of it. The ending is very straightforward. Ironically, each side is presenting the other's point of view: Blair is bashing his adviser demanding respect for the Queen and talking about all the sacrifices she had to commit. The Queen is pointing out to Blair why he had changed his attitude and prophets the same treating from tabloids as the one she got. The most powerful scene for me was the one when the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace and takes a walk by the gate, looking at the flowers and cards left there by the public. No one really realized until now, that the Queen really must have seen what was written on these cards! And I felt ashamed "Diana, you were too good for them" or "Your blood is on their hands". There are fragments of interviews with Diana where she indirectly accuses the Queen of what bad had happened to her. Only today I realized, that Diana was attacking a person unable to defend herself! We don't really expect the Queen to appear on Jonathan Ross' to present her part of the story, do we? And there is a second face of this coin. The subplot of hunting and killing of a deer is script writer's comment on the monarchy. And a prophecy - very sad, at that. I know that it makes this movie a little bit more fictional, but the message had to be sent.
I loved it. Made me realize something that I thought I knew the Queen is a living and breathing person. And that Diana was not the only victim of the media then. So was the Queen, and the monarchy.
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
Mirren puts in a fine performance as the Queen and you certainly couldn't quibble about the Oscar recognition. Although the historical content is very accurate it is impossible to comment on the accuracy of the royal characters. The film seems to adopt the stereotypical representation of the royals and it is quite possible this is correct. The royals are so detached though that it is hard to say this for sure.
The film is really about whether the monarchy can survive even though they aren't aware they are under such close scrutiny. I found the film quite entertaining and it's really a docu drama. You can also see little indications that it was originally meant to be a TV film. It will not change your life, but it's reasonably entertaining.
"The Queen" is probably the best performance of Helen Mirren in the cinema. This film reconstitutes the days after the death of Lady Di, showing the conservative and cold behavior of the Royal Family, and how the people questioned the reason for being of the parasite monarchy. Stephen Frears entwines archive footages with his filming and the result is a good movie, especially for those viewers that followed carefully those days. I am not sure whether the attention (and grieving) of the Queen with the stag shot by a guest is real or fictional to know whether this scene was manipulative or really happened, but it is very impressive. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "A Rainha" ("The Queen")
IT IS NOT.
What we have is a series of set pieces where some fairly good actors deliver lines of fiction. I am no apologist for the Royal Family but I am concerned that people may watch this film and, mistakenly, think they are being allowed to see what goes on behind the scenes at the Royal palaces and Downing Street. This is simply not the case.
The news reels are true and the beauty of the Scottish scenery is true but the rest is just made up. No one knows what the Queen and the Prime Minister discussed after Di's death and I would have preferred this to have been made clear at the start of the movie.
It struck me that the film was target at the US audience who watched this unfold at a distance. That may explain some of the clunky dialogue: Tony Blair: "Who is he?" Assistant (holding phone): "He's the Lord Chancellor - you're on your way to meet him at the airport." Come on. Massive signpost anyone?
Viewers outside the UK may not know that the Stephen Frears/Michael Sheen partnership have been seen before in a very successful UK television drama where Sheen played the part of Blair. Just because someone can do a decent impersonation of the British prime minister does not appear adequate justification for making a 97 minute film.
As I left the cinema I tried to work out why the film had been made. Couldn't come up with a single good reason.
This is the dynamic of power that bounces back and forth, aided by shrewish asides from Cherie Blair ("Off to see the girlfriend, then?") and her hilarious curtsy that manages to be respectful while still taking the p*ss. Delivering a sparkly dialogue and an especially witty battle between monarch and minister, director Stephen Frears' central accomplishment still has to be casting Helen Mirren as the Queen. No hard-line royalist, Mirren has said she thought twice before accepting her honours as a Dame of the British Empire in 2003, but her portrait here is convincingly astute, supporting a remarkable physical transformation with a sensitive characterisation that endears the Queen to us and renders her majesty's charisma all the more apparent.
In an early scene where the Queen is chatting to her portrait artist, she mentions the coming election and expresses a longing to vote, just once, for "the sheer joy of being partial." The artist reminds her that it is, after all, her government, and Queen Elizabeth retorts, "Yes, I suppose that's some consolation." Obviously there's some things money can't buy.
The film examines her character, her stoical dignity born of years of tolerance not of her choosing, and is maybe so gripping because previous portraits have been little more than a regal cipher. At the end, we feel that we have been privy to the private life of a person who, like her or not, is a feature of everyone's life in the UK. It maybe lacks the grandeur that is traditionally associated with the Queen, but is nevertheless a fairly sympathetic portrait. When Blair tells her how her ratings have dropped to an all time low, she is genuinely upset that she has failed to read her public - to whom she has devoted her life. The film, with all its light-hearted touches, maybe even assists the process of 'modernisation' that the Monarchy now believes is inevitable.
Much of the power in the performances is from unexpressed emotion. All the players are in such important positions that displays of feeling are usually taboo, publicly and sometimes privately as well. After her husband takes her grandchildren stag hunting to 'take their mind off things', the Queen is privately close to shedding a tear for the stag. A moment in the Balmoral countryside when she is alone with the creature reveals a sense of wonder in her that she cannot communicate to the human companions of her world, and she visits the body of the beast (when it is later killed by a neighbour) with more alacrity than she feels towards a dead daughter-in-law who has been her near ruin. Diana, in life, was perhaps also isolated, and we are reminded of her devotion to causes such as banning land-mines - causes to which she could unleash her emotion and, fortunately for her, to which the public could also identify.
The film evokes strong feelings - not least in bringing back the sense of national mourning that followed Diana's death (actual footage is used and the moments leading to the car crash are movingly re-created) even if this goes on to an almost sugary excess. Add to that the crisis of feelings within the Royal Family itself, the sense of isolation felt by the Queen, and the release of the film near the end of Blair's career, and you have a movie that presents a whirlwind of emotion that will thrill public tastes.