- on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 21:19
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Outside the walls of Buckingham Palace, the 1997 election for Prime Minister is underway, with young, bright-eyed modernizer Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) as the clear, political favorite. Often donning a Newcastle United football jersey and insisting on being called â"Tony," Blair refreshingly resonates with the people and their desire for modern change. Inside, however, an aged Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) sits, allowing a portraiture to capture, with each stroke of his brush, the tightly pursed lips, perfectly coiffed hair and stoic stare that has personified the British monarchy since 1952. While Elizabeth II is Queen, protocol is King.
After Blair's landslide victory and the Queen's cold confirmation of his elected post (reminding Blair that he is her tenth PM, the first being Winston Churchill), each go their separate ways - the new Prime Minister to London's chaotic 10 Downing Street and the Royal Family to their tranquil, Scotland retreat of Balmoral. However, in late August, tragedy shakes both the monarchy and the world, when a high-speed paparazzi pursuit of Princess Diana forces her untimely death. The Queen, Director Stephen Frears (Mrs. Henderson Presents) and Writer Peter Morgan's (Last King of Scotland) cinematic portrait of the weeks following Diana's death, poignantly chronicles the collision and evolution of these divergent political and personal worlds when the public's massive outpouring of grief for its Princess, and demand for the Queen to outwardly join in mourning, inexplicably fall on royal, deaf ears.
A character-actor's dream, The Queen brilliantly does what no other film has - and that is open a window in the public-shielded House of Windsor. And let me tell you, any draft being let in is nothing in comparison to the inhabitant's eerily frigid response to Princess Diana's death.
While it comes as no surprise that the Royal Family harbored nothing short of disdain for their publicly adored and celebrity-embraced former daughter-in-law, The Queen proffers that news of Diana's death hardly stirred them from their separate beds. Instead, it comes as an inconvenience during summer vacation with the Queen's sister reprehensibly grumbling that Diana is â"more annoying dead, than alive." Even Prince Charles' request to utilize the private jet so to retrieve the body is coldly refused, for Diana is no longer HRH and as such, her death is â"not a matter of state." (Apparently, being the mother of the future King of England just doesn't cut it anymore.) Not to mention, Prince Philip's (James Cromwell) remedy for the newly motherless boys is to take them hunting for a 14-point stag wandering the estate. It is no wonder that they have Blair throwing up his hands in disgust, screaming â"will somebody please save these people from themselves?" Little does he know, that somebody is himself.
While the Queen's traditionalist views and resolve to handle the matter â"quietly and with dignity," force her to deny even the most trivial of requests - flying the palace flag at half-mast - Blair (with the help of spinmeister, Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley), who jokes that the Queen â"greased the brakes"), delivers the heart embracing speech that permits the public to openly grieve â"The People's Princess." As millions of flowers and sympathetic offerings begin to bombard the gates of Buckingham Palace in memoriam, the Queen's absence causes her popularity to sink to staggering lows (with one in four people opting to abolish the monarchy, altogether). In an exhaustive effort to save the very monarchy that vehemently opposes him, Blair makes a desperate plea to the Queen - one that will not only have her questioning her reign, but one that will reshape Blair's own understanding of the woman beneath the crown.
Playing like a BBC docudrama, The Queen is a profound achievement in movie-making (apparently taken from sources close to the PM and monarchy at the time of Diana's passing and fictionalized therefrom), flawlessly mixing a smart, humorous and emotive script with spot-on performances, in order to breathe new and provocatively explosive life into a historical tragedy that touched so many hearts around the world. Dangerously treading on anti-royal territory, Frears creates a unique character evolution piece that digs deep into the callous psyche of an over-privileged, appearance-driven, power creature and emerges with a conflicted woman and grandmother who, after being thrust onto the throne in her twenties, has dutifully devoted her life to her country, implementing the only thing she knows - the sterile traditions imposed upon her by heritage.
The sudden sympathy she invokes, and the popularity of this film in the United States, however, is due primarily to the incomparable performance of Mirren. The 2006 Academy Award Winner for Best Actress, Mirren not only rules with an iron, female fist but embodies Her Majesty with a naturalness that is visually frightening. In the most symbolic scene of the film, Mirren comes face-to-face with the hunted stag and in a moment of reflection, hastens it to run free. The single tear that runs down the Queen's face you will never see; Mirren turns her back to the camera, honoring the Queen's stronghold on dignity even in the face of emotional adversity.
Likewise, her supporting cast is top notch. Michael Sheen becomes Blair with a fresh-faced finesse and unexpectedly, becomes the voice of reason to a flawed monarchy; Alex Jennings captures the paranoia and conniving nature of lying-in-wait Prince Charles; Helen McCrory with her mock-curtsey and open declaration of the Royals as â"emotionally retarded," brings a heap of humor into Cheri Blair's anti-monarchist views; James Cromwell's crowning performance of Prince Philip as a cancerous chap who is more concerned with tea growing cold than a Princess's death, is hands-down, one of his best; Sylvia Sims shines as the gin-drinking Queen Mother whose primary concern is for protecting her own funeral plans from being adapted for Diana's memorial; actual newsreel footage of the public sentiment brings life to the world outside the palatial walls as well as to Diana's brother's poetically superb tongue-lashing on the media and monarchy; and of course, the true center of the story, the Cinderella-esque Diana, is ever so intimately and beautifully injected into the film, via archival footage, graciously honoring her memory as we approach the ten year anniversary of her passing.
Frears cleverly parallels these opposed, inherited versus elected worlds, scene by scene, be it capturing the Queen's uninterrupted, regal breakfast against Blair's middle-class morning complete with screaming children and blaring television, or the open doors of 10 Downing Street with the bubble-like qualities of Buckingham Palace. But suddenly, Frears beautifully blurs the lines when, during Blair's empathetic speech, he shows the Queen's private secretary (Alex Jennings) sitting unmoved, while his female members of staff stand, openly weeping for their Princess. It is a powerful and defining moment that cinematically marks a need for modern compromise and an intersection of the public and private sectors.
For those intrigued by the Royal Family, the DVD version of The Queen offers an amazing Bonus Feature with audio commentary from British Historian and Royal Expert, Robert Lacey. Scene by scene Lacey provides insight into palatial life and protocol, while dissecting the accuracy of Frears and Morgan's interpretation. Ultimately, he opines that this film, albeit fictional, brings you as close to the Royal-response of â"that week" as one can get.
For those who chalk such foreign subject matter off as rubbish, then be forewarned: this is a character-driven piece that focuses on a short time in recent British history. However, as long as you step into the film with a solid understanding of what The Queen is, and what it seeks to accomplish, then you can indulge in an emotionally moving and thought-provoking, visual experience, rich with a humor, wit, symbolism, fascinating insight and some of the most astounding portrait performances, to date.
Essentially, The Queen can be embodied in one Shakespearean quote, â"uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (Henry IV, Part II); and nothing could be more true of the dark days which plagued the Queen following princess Diana's death. Whether she ultimately took a knee to Prime Minister Blair and led by the heart rather than the head, well, that may never be disclosed until after her death. For now, one thing is undeniable - Director Stephen Frears masterfully crafts a controversial, historical drama that intimately explores the explosive and heart-warming evolution of Britain's two most prominent political figures one crisis-laden summer, and how the public-adored Princess of Wales, even in her death, successfully pinned the traditional monarchy against society's demand for modern change.
Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; making-of featurette.
o Feature-length audio commentary with director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan
o Feature-length audio commentary with British Historian and Royal Expert Robert Lacey, Author of "Majesty"
o The Making of The Queen
Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase packaging