#193 The Queen

(2006, Stephen Frears)

“Nowadays people want glamour and tears, the grand performance. I’ve never been good at that”

For the British, one of the most infamous events of the nineties was the death of Princess Diana. Diana was a popular figure, winning the hearts of many of the British public, resulting in a huge outpouring of emotion following her death. This is a movie about that time, told from the perspective of the titular royal figurehead, Queen Elizabeth, known as Lizzie to her friends or simply The Queen.

It’s 1997, and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) has just been appointed prime minister, and the nation is celebrating, although Queen Liz (Helen Mirren) is sceptical of him. Then tragedy strikes when news comes in from France that Diana Spencer, ex-wife to Prince Charles, has been killed in a car crash. In line with tradition, the royals head up to their residence in Balmoral, Scotland for a period of private mourning, refusing to acknowledge Diana as an official royal and therefore feeling no need to make a statement on her death or hold a state funeral.

However, the princess’ popularity with the British public is putting Elizabeth under pressure to go against this, and demand for a public statement and a state funeral is high. Blair is using this to his advantage, attempting to maintain his public position as a popular PM (haha, nope, can’t take that sentence seriously…), which isn’t helping the royal position. It’s now up to Liz to try and decide whether to bow to public pressure or stick to royal protocol.

I’ve reviewed movies based on historical events before, but this is the first where I was actually around at the time and remember fairly well. OK, I was 11 at the time, so I didn’t get all the political views of the events, but I certainly remember the public mourning and I remember being as baffled by it then as I was watching The Queen.

It isn’t a criticism of the movie to say the British public’s reaction to Diana’s death was a tad over-the-top and borderline hysterical. While Diana’s actual death is treated with a decent level of respect, it depicts the public reaction as being a little ridiculous, but this is actually a compliment to the movie because the mourning really was that bad. Hell, I’d even go as far as suggesting the movie may even be looking back at the reaction and saying “really, Britain?” and for that I actually enjoyed it.

It helps that both Mirren and Sheen put in excellent performances as Queen Liz and Blair. Mirren is stately, appearing stoic and prim, much like the real queen, although at times she comes across as a little too animated. Admittedly, this may be because I’m comparing her performance to the modern monarch who, these days, tends to turn up to public events and look absolutely insulted by everything and everyone.

Sheen as Blair is perfect. The voice, for a start, is perfect, but he also presents the former PM as suitably slimy and self-serving underneath his friendly and welcoming exterior, so that’s accurate.

Other performances are spot on. Alastair Campbell is immensely punchable, and so is the fictional version in this movie played by Mark Bazeley. James Cromwell pretty much is the Duke Of Edinburgh, even down to needlessly ranting about homosexuals partway through the film, and it’s hilarious.

Doesn’t always work, however. The guy playing Charles looks so little like the real person that there were times when I thought he was simply a royal aide or something. It was a little sad to see how wrong they’d gotten this role when everyone else was so right.

The movie is also very funny as well as being poignant at times. It seems to make jabs at the British political establishment, the royals and the British reaction to the royals in equal measure, but always in a friendly way. In that sense, it’s very British in tone (appropriately so), and so if you enjoy the British sense of humour, you should enjoy the movie.

It’s not perfect, however. There are plenty of instances of file footage cropping up, usually from news reports at the time, and the VHS artifacts of nineties video technology become painfully noticeable when put next to the more high-definition modern footage. It gets worse when they try to combine the two, trying to slot Mirren and Cromwell into actual file footage of the Queen and Phillip reading the cards and messages left outside the palace.

There are also some minor issues with the plot. While the movie is certainly entertaining, and does a great job with its accuracy to real events with a great sense of humour, by the end of the film it’s easy to be left with a question of what the purpose the movie served. It was never clear if the movie was trying to celebrate Britain or poke fun at it, and even less clear what Stephen Frears’ stance on the royal family is. Perhaps this is the point; perhaps The Queen is meant to be little more than a reflection of the events of the time, with no political angle slapped on.

Overall, I loved The Queen. It’s an excellent example of British cinema that treated the royal family and the political establishment as actual human beings with flaws, and was a very entertaining hour and a half to boot. Anyone with an interest in the royal family or just Britain in general should definitely give this a watch.

Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Sylvia Syms
Written by Peter Morgan
Produced by Andy Harries, Christine Langan and Tracey Seaward
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by Affonso Beato
Edited by Lucia Zucchetti

Favourite Scene: Something great about watching the Queen telling Tony Blair to shove it while talking to him on the phone. Well, not in those words, but still.
Scene That Bugged Me: There’s a scene where the Queen’s jeep has broken down and she sits on the side of a river watching a deer. I think it’s symbolic, but of what I have no idea.

Watch it if: You like Britain and the Queen
Avoid it if: You can’t fathom any scene where Tony Blair is described as a popular PM

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Posted on June 16, 2013, in 2000s, Biopic, Comedy, Drama, Political, United Kingdom and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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