Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Stephen Frears
Very rarely are there movies which create a buzz such that I feel the need to see it immediately after it’s released on DVD. And even more rarely does it occur that I view a film and have the need to own it. Immediately. The Queen was one such movie, and I even bought a second DVD to give to my mother for Mother’s Day this year.
Although billed as a story about Queen Elizabeth in the wake of the death of Princess Diana, I found The Queen to be more a story of the dynamic between Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair. It represents the distinct difference philosophy between the old world and the old way of doing things and the more modern. After all, as Queen Elizabeth reminds Tony Blair upon his election, the first Prime Minister who sat down with her was Winston Churchill in frock coat and a top hat.
Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as a traditionalist. She believes in a certain order to the world. This is apparent right from the beginning in how she reacts to the news of the election of Tony Blair as Prime Minister. She is critical of how he will run Downing Street, complete with people calling each other on a first name basis. When she meets with him, it purely because she has to. She shows no feelings that she truly wants to embrace this man, hear his philosophy, or have him run “her” government.
The death of Princess Diana is the catalyst for the next set of events. It’s perhaps the sharp contrast being noted there; the line between royalty and the people of England. Diana was a part of the people of England where the Queen and the family seem separated from them.
The Queen sees Diana’s death as a private matter. In a sense, she is correct. The people of England, and the world, through their hunger for more information and a sense that somehow we had the right to know about her private life, was a catalyst for the pursuit by the paparazzi which directly or indirectly (depending on your view) caused Diana’s death. That even in death she was given no privacy is sad. That the people of England, and the world, felt entitled to share in the grief of her passing, is ironic, to say the least.
That commentary aside, The Queen is an excellent film. This is mostly due to the performances by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. Both evolve throughout the movie and the sequence of events which propels them along has a good flow to it. Part of it is likely because so many of us have a memory of that time and what was happening that the events fit in with their reactions.
Mirren portrays the Queen as being lost in what her world has become. In many ways, her traditions and expectations are a thing of the past and she is shown having some difficulty adjusting to it. That she eventually does seem to adjust a bit and bend is a credit to all. Mirren portrays her struggle in the stoic manner one would expect from her character and from what we see of her. At the same time, Queen Elizabeth most definitely has an inner strength that she doesn’t lose, even when she finally forges an uneasy friendship with Tony Blair.
The evolution of Blair is excellent as well. Initially, upon his election, he doesn’t seem sympathetic to the Royals at all and in conversations with his wife Cherie (portrayed by Helen McCrory) seems almost to be calling for the dissolution of the monarchy in England. The death of Diana and the events surrounding it seem to cause him to become more sympathetic to the plight of the Royals.
The question I had was where did the chronology of events come from? Where did the writer/director/producer get information about events as they took place? That was done with the help of one of the historical consultants, Robert Lacey, and interviews which writer Peter Morgan conducted with those in the Prime Minister’s office. This information, gleaned from the commentary included on the disc with British Historian and Royal Expert Robert Lacey was invaluable to me, and I enjoyed watching the film a second time because of that.
The secondary characters are excellent. James Cromwell is Prince Philip and is excellent in the role. He is even more unbending and rigid than his wife. The Queen Mother is portrayed by Sylvia Syms and is both a bit of levity at times as well as being a woman caught in the past. It’s something that I felt was easier to forgive her for as I had an image of her in Buckingham Palace while Hitler’s bombs fell around her in my head while I listened to her. Things have changed quite a bit since then.
One of the most subdued performances is that of Alex Jennings as Prince Charles. He seems alternately smothered by his mother while at the same time having a better read on the emotions of the people of England than she does. At the end of The Queen, it would have seemed natural to me for Elizabeth to have stepped aside and let her son have the throne, but she is still hanging onto it. Perhaps it is her fear of the even more modernization her son will bring to the monarchy that causes her to resist, for he certainly seems to be reaching out more to Tony Blair for support than his mother during this time. Jennings captures Charles’ frustration in just a few scenes while at the same time dealing with his own grief and trying to protect his sons.
The one pivotal moment in The Queen is the allegory between an elk stalked on Balmoral property who is then chased onto neighboring property, wounded there, and stalked until he can have the final bullet put in him. This seems to be an image that sinks into the Elizabeth about what Diana must have felt like. For all their derisiveness in the beginning of the movie, by the end it felt like she had a good deal more sympathy for her former daughter-in-law as well. Although a bit overdone, the allegory was quite good.
With Tony Blair’s tenure as Prime Minister coming to an end, The Queen is a good way to remember the beginning of it. If nothing else, he was a man able to see the forest for the trees and try to do what was best for his country, rather than using a particular event to try to tear it apart all the more. It’s a shame more politicians don’t follow in his footsteps.
” The Making of The Queen
” Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears and Writer Peter Morgan
” Audio Commentary with British Historian and Royal Expert Robert Lacey
Categories: Movie Reviews