The Queen

2007-05-14 12:00

When a tragic accident takes the life of Princess Diana, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) is left with a political hot potato as The Crown declines to publicly react to the incident. But Queen Elizabeth’s (Helen Mirren) action is not as ill considered as it seems. Battling generations of tradition and institution, the Queen herself must face a personal crisis that may revise the Crown’s station forever.


Helen Mirren is extraordinary – in both the professional and aesthetic sense. She is also the actor who best resembles her real-life character in The Queen, apart from James Cromwell, who is so accurate as Price Philip it’s as surreal as real life is likely to get.

Realism – or lack of it – aside, The Queen is compelling viewing. Taking place mostly in the week of Diana’s death, the story explores the motivations behind the Crown’s response to the event. While Buckingham Palace remains dark and silent (The family have all retreated to Balmoral), Tony Blair becomes a national hero in voicing the sadness of the people in its stead.

Queen Elizabeth, though quite resolute in her approach, seems more trapped within the confines of her station as the film progresses. It’s as if the Diana debacle is a modern day reflection of an age-old dynamic – that of the institution vs the public. “Let them eat cake” goes the mythical statement falsely credited to Marie Antoinette. This is basically the position of the Crown, most brazenly illustrated by Prince Philip.

The Monarchy, by Philip’s analysis, cannot be seen to capitulate to the emotional needs of the masses. Blair, on the other hand, insists that the Monarchy cannot ignore the people, who demand that Diana be acknowledged by the Crown. It is the old world versus the new, in this and many other respects.

The Queen is essentially an actor’s piece, the camera being a cold observer of characters in a situation that is quite extraordinary from a historical point of view. Frears manages to portray the royal household as that of any other upper class English family, with familial spats, inter-generational politics and the stiff upper-lipped daily contrivances that allow it to function. Philip, for example, takes the boys hunting to ‘get them out the house’ upon hearing of their mother’s death.

The film even reaches into the current political climate. The closing dialogue between Elizabeth and Blair sardonically prophesises Blair’s own disdain for the people’s opinion on The War on Terror issues.

Michael Sheen is sufficiently chipper and irritating as Tony Blair – a very accurate portrayal, then; and the rest all give the kind of classy, understated performances that we expect from a veteran British cast; especially the aforementioned Cromwell.

But the power of this film truly lies in Mirren’s incredibly complex and sympathetic performance. Elizabeth’s fragility is particularly tangible in the scene where she and Philip are looking at the flowers placed at the gate of the castle. Occasionally turning to look at the eerily silent crowd gathered there, there’s a wall between the Queen and her people. The film ultimately seeks to explain why this wall exists, and why it might have to.

It’s compelling viewing in the classic Britdrama style, with an actor’s award a shoo-in for Mirren.

- Anton Marshall
Helen Mirren gives the performance of her career in The Queen, a daring and compelling film about the British monarchy at the time of Lady Diana's death.

Faith Botha 2007/01/03 7:12 PM
The Queen Yes, definitely Helen Mirren is my favouite actress
Glen Phillips 2007/01/07 10:29 AM
The Queen Excellent, stunning,riveting. Helen Mirrin was superb.
Amanda 2007/01/07 11:22 AM
Great review Thanks for an insightful review. Looking forward to seeing this film.
Daniel 2007/01/07 12:30 PM
cant wait As a brit i can not wait to see this film
Jimmy Lithgow 2007/01/17 11:02 PM
CARDBOARD CUTOUTS Yes, Helen Mirren will win the Oscar, but I don't think she deserves to. Impersonations are easy for good actors (like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote, last year). Getting under the skin of a character is far more difficult. For me, Mirren didn't succeed in that. She came across as being shallow, patronising, sulky, jealous and bitter. There must be more to the woman than that. Most of the members of the Royal Family, as portayed in "The Queen", were mere cardboard cut-outs, with Charles and the Queen Mum absolute disasters. The only actor worthy of an award in this film was Michael Sheen, for his Tony Blair. He was superb, and should get an Oscar nominataion at the very least, but he won't.
Tanya 2007/01/25 1:04 AM
Goddess As a child, I walked, eat, slept DIANA! I can not wait to see this movie. Hope this movie will answer some questions?
Martie 2007/01/25 5:07 PM
The Queen Really.... I wanted to walk out Actors are good, but, do we really have to sit through it all again .. the press, Diana... we have seen it all and remember it so well Why now spol our memories with this really bad story !!!
Martie 2007/01/25 5:09 PM
The Queen Not the Oscar, but an award for very good acting and mimic
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