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The Queen

by Laura Sweeney on Feb 14, 2007

THE QUEEN REVIEW:

 

The Queen is an in depth examination of Queen Elizabeth II’s reaction, (or lack thereof) to Princess Diana’s death in 1997.  It’s a movie about changing times: a ruler looks at the generation of people to whom they’ve given their life’s work and finds nothing in common.  The Queen is a definite actor’s movie. Helen Mirren, with Stephen Frears’ distinctive direction, executed the title role with tremendous restraint, internal wisdom, and power.  Mirren was virtually transformed, her elegant face turned dour with no fancy special effects of prosthetic, just good ole fashioned acting.  It was an extremely challenging role, with Peter Morgan’s brilliant screenplay offering sparse and subtle dialogue. The character of the Queen does not have the luxury of divulging her inner emotions and neither does the actress who plays her. In fact, with no help from a diary or voiceover, Mirren connected with the audience and found a way to communicate the Queen’s inner life with little more that a twinkle in her eye. 

 

One of the things I found interesting was the way in which this film depicted the Royal family as a real family.  The Queen repeats that her biggest concern is “the boys.”  And though this sentiment comes across as maternal and warm, we never actually witness her interacting with her grandsons due to her demanding duties as Queen. I also enjoyed the bird’s eye view of the royal family’s bizarre archaic existence, kilts and beast stalking included. 

 

My favorite relationship in the movie was one that develops between the Queen and a stag she meets on the castle grounds.  It’s the same beast Prince Philip and the boys are hunting for sport.  The Queen warns the beast to shoo because he’s not safe.  Then, they share a knowing glance, the Queen suddenly aware that she is not as safe as she’d like to believe either.  The next day, when she hears that the beast has been killed, she goes to see it.   It hangs by its hoof, exposed and fragile.  The Queen relates to this dead animal: her people have hung her out to dry, choosing to love instead Princess Diana. Or maybe this is the moment and the way in which the Queen is able to privately mourn the death of her daughter-in-law.

 

Another extraordinary filmmaking moment is during Diana’s funeral. While Diana’s parents and the Royal family respectfully mourn her inside of the Abbey, a roar of applause enters as the outside crowds come to their feet clapping.  This appalls the Queen. Although this makes her come across as pretty bitchy, I did need to remind myself it’s not customary to clap at funerals.

 

Besides Mirren’s excellent performance, Alex Jennings portrayed accurately the recognizable wimp Prince Charles.  However, I do wish I had seen more of his character.  This felt to me like a gaping hole in the story.  After all, it was Charles who linked the Queen to Diana and I felt they were playing it awfully safe in this film by not exploring this relationship further.  It is, after all, probably the most important mother son relationship of our time.  Michael Sheen related well as the modernizer, Tony Blair.  Also James Cromwell played Prince Philip about as crotchety as old British people come. Sylvia Syms was delightful as The Queen Mother and Roger Allam towed the line between funny and serious as Sir Robin.

 

As I walked out of the theatre, I actually felt a little disappointed in this movie.  It met my expectations of being a subtle British movie, but it felt at first glance more like a tribute than a real story.   However, after I let it digest, I found this movie quite brilliant.  I found myself saying, “of course I was disappointed in watching the life of this Queen.  Because it wasn’t glamorous or exciting like a story about Diana would’ve been.” But I’m pretty sure that was the filmmakers’ goal:  to make us ask ourselves what it is we expect from our rulers.  Have we come to value a good show over a capable ruler?   After all, this Queen knew Winston Churchill, what did I expect her to do, break down and cry on camera?  This Queen is no entertainer, she is a ruler.

  January 21, 2019

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