The Queen (2006) Review

The Queen (2006) Review 1
The Queen (2006) Review
The Queen (2006)
Director(s): Stephen Frears
Actor(s): Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
Running Time: 103 min
CGM Editors Choice
| November 17, 2006

My regular readers will recall my mention once or twice that I worked at the Home Entertainment counter at Zellers once upon a time. My first fall there coincided with the August 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the completely unbelievable emotional fallout that followed. I saw copies of Elton John’s rejiggered “Candle In The Wind” fly off the shelf knowing that they’d be in the bargain bin by the same time the next year. I marveled in the irony as Mother Teresa, whose accomplishments in one year outstripped the entirety of Diana Spencer’s life, died with a media whimper within a week of the Paris car crash that killed the “People’s Princess”.

Director Stephen Frears takes this event and looks at it from the inside out with his new film The Queen, following the week long fit of mourning over the Princess of Wales from the perspective of the Royal Family and Tony Blair. Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II with tremendous grace and gravitas; every bit the Oscar-worthy performance that a great many people have touted. Her Gracious Majesty—with her husband Prince Phillip (James Cromwell), the Queen Mother, her son Prince Charles, and her grandsons Princes William and Harry—watches the nation mourn from their summer home. The Queen remains steadfast in her belief that the outpouring of grief is a passing phase and that the Royal Family doesn’t deal with personal tragedy in the media spotlight.

Michael Sheen is Tony Blair, newly elected Labour Prime Minister of Britain, whose promised sweeping reforms take England into the next century; of course, this is the Blair we all know and love before he became Tonto to Bush’s Lone Ranger on Iraq. Blair walks a fine line; he serves as the head of the Queen’s government, but many in his inner circle, including his own wife, believe Britain has outgrown the crown. When Diana is killed in Paris, Blair is quick to respond with words of comfort to the people; Blair’s popularity soars as the situation becomes an escalating PR crisis for the Royals. He must then find a way to nudge the Queen to accept a more modern stance while showing the utmost respect for tradition. If Mirren is to be honoured in award season, then so must Sheen; his pitch perfect mimic of Blair, from his vocal inflection to his dopey grin, is exquisite.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an actor in this film who isn’t delivering ever second. The actor playing Prince Charles may not look the part of the King to be, but the point is you feel it, sometimes with a glance or a line reading, but its there—that’s Prince Charles. Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mum is also excellent, capturing the grand lady’s indomitable spirit.

The intent of this film isn’t to bash the Queen or canonize Blair; it paints how a twist of fate can suddenly force tradition-minded people into the changes they need to make. Both sides are completely understandable and defensible. The Queen is of a generation that persevered in the face of adversity and never thought nor felt they had to share private feelings with the people. For Blair, it’s about finding a balance; the most jarring scene of the film is when he verbally lashes a staffer for taking the mickey out of the Queen as they watch her interact with the crowd outside Buckingham Palace for the first time. Looking back nearly a decade later, the kafuffle over Diana’s death seems a little much considering that her extravagant tomb in London only gets a trickle of visitors every year, but Frears very much puts you back in that moment, when the heartache for many was deep and real.

What Stephen Frears has done here is craft a terrific character study of people we don’t get know privately. Wonderful performances make The Queen an absolutely rewarding experience for the audience.

Final Thoughts

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