Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Queen

From IMDb Movie database

The Queen

Stephen Frears’ extraordinary movie “The Queen” is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the strange, dysfunctional, detached, protected, snobbish and misguided responses of the British Royal Family at the time of the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August 1997. That the Queen, after too many days of aloof distain behind the fences of her remote Balmoral estate, eventually understood the mood of the people was in no small measure due to the persistence of her new Prime Minister Tony Blair. This was the honeymoon period of Blair and he was sure-footed in his reaction to the loss of the woman he dubbed the “People’s Princess” and his wish that the Queen should come back to London to lead the nation’s mourning eventually prevailed.

Peter Morgan’s script and Stephen Frears’ direction are as realistic as possible and some parts of the film are semi-documentary in style. The dialogue between the characters, both in the Queen’s immediate family and in the rival court of Mr Blair is, of course, invented but it all carries the firm ring of truth. It will be a shock to the royalist to see just how awful some of the Royal Family could be – the snobbish and insensitive Queen Mother, the bad tempered and dismissive Duke of Edinburgh and the diffident Prince Charles are chillingly well portrayed. Helen Mirren’s performance as the Queen is truly astonishing –to such an extent that very soon into the movie you forget that this is an actor playing a role and firmly believe that you are seeing Queen Elizabeth herself. Mirren does not impersonate the Queen - she is “The Queen”!

The film is more than a believable record of a week in the lives of the Royals and of the Prime Minister – it makes some telling points about modern Britain – the country that had just given the Labour Party a stunning victory after eighteen years of rule by the Conservatives. This is a Britain whose people are not prepared to accept what they see as inappropriate behaviour by anybody – even their Monarch. When the Queen acted so ill-advisedly the people told her so. It is also a Britain confident enough to choose its own icons and quite obviously it preferred the real and fallible Dianna to the stiff and remote royal family. This remoteness was well captured in the movie by Frears’ clever use of the stalking of a stag as a metaphor. The hunting down of a beautiful wild animal is shocking not only because most of the British people would find the violent act an obscenity in itself, but also because the fact that many of the royals clearly enjoyed the “sport” showed how removed from ordinary life and values they were. Whether Stephen Frears also meant the hunting of the stag to be symbolic of the hunting down of Diana I’m not sure – but the senseless death of the animal seemed to move the Queen, and Mirren’s performance at this moment allowed us to glimpse a more sensitive individual beneath her stiff upper lip external persona. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s “Yet each man kills the thing he loves” in respect of both Diana and the Stag.

Diana’s death was a learning experience for the Royal Family, but also for Tony Blair. He had to tread a difficult line between those in his immediate entourage with Republican leanings - who wanted to hang the Queen out to dry - and the reality of the British constitution which has the Queen, not the Prime Minister, as head of State. He did this well and listened more to the pragmatic and scheming Alastair Campbell than he did to his more strident wife Cherie. Blair’s sure touch was eventually to desert him with his disastrous decision to support the United States over Iraq and one of the incidental aspects of “The Queen” is the reminder that it gives us of how much we lost when this skilful politician made such a ruinous error of judgment.

“The Queen” is a serious film, but it is made with a lightness and sureness of touch which means that it entertains as well as informs. And in Helen Mirren’s sympathetic but never obsequious portrayal of the monarch we can see what must surely be an Oscar winning performance.