Recently Queen Elizabeth II visited the Commonwealth of Virginia to attend the 400th birthday celebration for Jamestown. Most of us were excited to see her primarily because of the closeness that has once again developed between our two countries. However, as we waited to see the Queen pass by in her royal carriage, many of us couldn’t help but turn the clock back a few years to just after the death of Princess Diana; a time when Elizabeth was anything but a popular public figure.
The movie “The Queen”, which was just recently released to DVD specifically addresses that period in time and attempts to explain why the royal family responded the way they did after Diana’s death. While I’m not certain that I buy all of the pabulum that the movie wants to force feed those of us who remember that time, I am a little more open to the belief that perhaps Elizabeth’s actions during that time were not as cold hearted as they seemed.
“The Queen” is definitely an outstanding movie and I certainly can see why Helen Mirren walked away with just about every best actress award in 2007. She managed to literally transform herself into Queen Elizabeth. I, as well as everyone that I spoke with about the film, actually forgot while watching it, that it wasn’t the real Queen up there on the screen. Mirren was that convincing.
Equally convincing was James Cromwell as her husband Philip although I found it interesting that there was no attempt to whitewash Philip’s coldness toward the princess’s death. He came across as an extremely heartless human being; just as most believed the Queen herself to be at the time.
Alex Jennings, as Prince Charles, was painted as a caring ex-husband and father who felt real pain at the death of his ex-wife because of the impact her loss would have upon their sons. I have no idea how realistic that interpretation is but I’m hopeful that there was a bit of truth within it for the sale of the two princes.
Besides Mirren herself, I also truly enjoyed the performance of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. He portrayed the Prime Minister exactly the way most people envision him to be. Truth or fiction, the portrayal offered a much needed counter balance for the story.
The movie begins just before the fateful accident that cost Princess Diana her life and just as Tony Blair was taking office as Prime Minister. It sets the stage for the interesting relationship that would develop between the monarchy and its highest government official. The focus of the film, however, is on the five days between Diana’s death and her funeral.
For those of you who may not remember, the royal family made no official comments nor appeared to even recognize the princess’s death during that time. They were, in fact, not even in London, nor did they return to the palace until Blair pressured them to acknowledge the English people’s grief over the loss of “The People’s Princess” as Diana had been dubbed.
Elizabeth, use to being a respected and at least somewhat loved figure, was suddenly thrust into an unpopular stance with her people. It was a role she couldn’t understand and discovered that she didn’t really care for.
This is where Mirren excelled in her performance as the Queen. She was able to, with a look in the eye, a furrow of the brow, and a set of the lips let everyone see that there was a very real person caught behind a public persona. She made it clear that Elizabeth was merely doing what she truly felt was expected of her and what she had been taught her entire life.
At Blair’s insistence, the Queen and her family finally returned to London and agreed to make a public statement on television and fly the British flag at half-mast over the palace. They even eventually agreed to the royal funeral that was viewed by millions of people around the world.
The film made excellent use of much of the actual documentary footage available from that time. It was a vivid reminder that not only the English people were affected by the loss of the princess. It was, instead, a loss felt throughout the world. It also impressed that few saw Diana as a perfect being but, in fact, it was her flaws that made her so believable and so easy to love.
Director Stephen Frears, using an outstanding script by Peter Morgan, crafted a brilliant masterpiece of a film that is likely to be enjoyed for generations to come. It is very likely a crown jewel in his director’s crown.
All of the performances in this movie were quite good as was the cinematography and music. In fact, there was nothing I could point to that wasn’t outstanding. I have to give this one five out of five stars and, for me, that’s saying a great deal.