Queen, The (2006)

 

"We are list-worthy"
"We are list-worthy"

Genre: Drama (UK, France, Italy)

Starring: Helen Mirren (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her LoverThe Debt), Michael Sheen (Frost/NixonThe Damned United)

Directed By: Stephen Frears (Dangerous LiaisonsHigh Fidelity)

Overview: The story of Queen Elizabeth II and the scandal surrounding the Royals’ reaction at the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

The Queen looks at an aspect of modern society that we don’t see very often – royalty. A movie about our queen (I am, after all, Canadian) made me quickly realize that I knew absolutely nothing about her. Shortly after the film began, my interest into this woman’s life was piqued, and I expected that Helen Mirren, winner of the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Leading Actress for this role as QEII, would deliver a grand performance. When I discovered the film was not a general biography but more about a specific time, namely the days after Princess Diana’s untimely death, well that plot was one I could get behind.

We open in 1997 with Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), sitting for a portrait, discussing her obvious disapproval of Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) on the eve of his becoming the next English Prime Minister. Three months later, tragedy strikes and Princess Diana, who a year before renounced her crown and went back to being a commoner, is killed in a tragic car accident. The country mourns, Tony Blair makes a grand speech about Diana’s accomplishments and names her “The People’s Princess”. The country waits for the other shoe to drop, for the Royals to make an appearance, to speak of the passing of the once beloved wife of Prince Charles, but it does not happen. As people set up camp and flowers fill the front gate of Buckingham palace, the Royals are silent, keeping their grief to themselves. Their popularity wanes, Tony Blair makes repeated phone calls to the palace, imploring the queen to say something to the public, to fly the royal standard at half-mast. In short, The Queen is the story of the days that followed Diana’s death and how Elizabeth II was made to listen to the mournful wishes of her countrymen, and the difficulty this posed when compared to what royal decorum dictated.

Queeny B. Goode

As the film began, Queen Elizabeth’s character seemed all too quiet. She felt more like someone who reacted to situations rather than creating her own. As we followed her husband, Prince Philip (James Cromwell), her son Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), and of course the debatably more primary character of Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth slowly, subtly, stylishly, shines through. As tensions heat up, so too does Helen Mirren’s performance. I was most impressed to see the queen frequently portrayed, probably rightly, as a woman out of touch, isolated from her people, doing what impulse dictated rather than considering the people.

JANVRIN: Oh, and the flowers.
ELIZABETH: What flowers?
JANVRIN: The flowers that have been left outside Buckingham palace. Currently they're blocking the path through the main gate, and will make things difficult for the Changing of the Guard.
ELIZABETH: Fine. Then move them away.
JANVRIN: Actually, the Lord Chamberlain was wondering whether we shouldn't leave the flowers, and send the Guards through the North Gate.
ELIZABETH: Ye-es. Of course. Quite right.

Most shots in The Queen are either gorgeous vistas of her vast summer estate, interior shots of palatial rooms, and frequent wonderful use of archive news footage. The scene where Tony Blair meets with Queen Elizabeth alone for the first time is wonderful. When Her Majesty Elizabeth’s jeep breaks down on her crown land and she has a human moment alone, outside, that’s a great and memorable scene.

We delve into Prince Charles's fear of getting shot, we see Prince Philip’s rage at the British people, and through it all we watch Tony Blair gaining popularity by being the voice of the people. Consistently entertaining throughout, The Queen is an above-average biopic telling of a (recent) time gone by. Seeing it today, 15 years after those portrayed events, will also tickle the synapses of those who recall that summer in 1997.

 

I'm sure Mirren got a kick out of making people bow to her.
I'm sure Mirren got a kick out of making people bow to her.

 

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 9 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 82% (“We Are Amused”)
Aftertaste:

The archive footage was quite prominent in The Queen. I should not have been surprised when the ending credits included archive consultant Adam Curtis, who I immediately recognized from his work with “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear”, “The Century of the Self” and  It Felt Like a Kiss. It was nice to see he was involved.

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I liked this one for the same reasons you did. That moment in the busted Jeep is my favorite from the film as well--a genuinely human instant in a life lived in public view. 

 There's a lot to like here, and Mirren's performance is just a part of it. 

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