The Queen

The Queen

A film review by Witney Seibold


            Why did Princess Diana’s death in 1997 affect us so? The world was thrown into mourning. Her funeral was attended by thousands or people. Buckingham Palace was mobbed by bereaved, and choked with bouquets. Recently-elected Tony Blair declared Diana the “people’s princess.” She was a darling of the public and the press, and her death-by-paparazzi sent some people reeling. Just about every newscaster in the world started lowering their flags, and running TV specials on Diana’s fairy-tale life, her reluctance to be a royal broodmare, and her cute-as-a-button, little-girl smile that charmed the world.


            And meanwhile Queen Elizabeth, Charles, Philip, and the rest of the royals refused to do anything about it.


            And why should they? Diana was no longer a member of the royal family. She had done little in the last few months to promote the ideals of the British aristocracy. She spent most of her time as a royal shaking hands and kissing babies, and not really doing anything to rule; she had no real royal power. She callously turned her back on the life she had married into. She was a media hound of the worst kind, and old-fashioned Queen Elizabeth II wanted nothing to do with it. She even wanted the funeral to be private.


            Stephen Frears’ new film The Queen chronicles the events in the life of the Royals during the week following Diana’s death, and focuses specifically on Queen Elizabeth’s inexplicable-to-the-people reaction to it. It is an excellent film, and Helen Mirren, as the queen, is the film’s lifeblood. It is a film about the conflict between a rigidly established tradition, and the sheer tidal wave of televised popular opinion, something that no English king or Queen had to deal with before (Elizabeth came of age in the television era). Can tradition beat modernity? How does a royal system stay alive in an era of a fluctuating populous, and a populist Labour Party candidate?


These are grand and epic themes, almost out of a Japanese film, presented to us in a clear and simple way, and let’s us feel sympathy for a group of people largely considered by the British and American public to be stilted and dowdy. These are people who have been raised in an ancient governmental system, and, like The Catholic Church or lawyers specializing in the U.S. Constitution, are trained to think of their institution in terms of centuries; they will not cave to popular opinion, since it is, well, merely popular. When royals eventually begin to cave, very reluctantly, to the idea of a public funeral, we feel a pang, and we can sense the Queen Mum’s (Helen McCrory) ghast when she learns that Di’s quickly-planned funeral must be lifted directly from her own. Only with Elton John in place of Royal Guard. Eventually when Helen Mirren reads, sternly, the Queen’s actual public address, we finally sense what she was doing: letting the aristocracy survive in a modern world.


            The subject matter and the acclaimed director would lead one top feel that this film is merely Academy Award bait; I and a few friends have subtitled this film “Please Give Helen Mirren her Oscar Now.” She certainly deserves one. She pulls off playing a public figure that we all know, but adds her own resolute power that she brings to all of her roles. She is not merely imitating the queen, but it’s her performance that lets us feel the rut that the royals must have been in. Do they protect Di’s sons from media hounding, or trot them out for the eager tabloid cameras? Do they acknowledge the death of a non-royal that they hated, or do they ignore it? Do they face the recent allegations (held, most notably, by Tony Blair’s own wife) that the royal system needs to be dissolved entirely?


            What the queen did was preserve a level of class, decorum, and royal gravitas that, well, can be darn good for a country’s rulers. I think they did the right thing.


            Also featured: James Cromwell is delicious as a hunting-obsessed Philip, and Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in a recent BBC miniseries, plays his role with aplomb.

 September 30th, Miramax

Published in: on August 28, 2007 at 8:35 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hello, nice post. Bookmark it.

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