I will admit, that when I first heard about this movie being made I was somewhat skeptical. Royal docudrama dialogue tends to be culled from sensationalized headlines and the characterizations are usually one-dimensional. In ths case, I thought it would be no different from the others, not to mention a bad career move for Helen Mirren.
So imagine my surprise when this movie started to get rave reviews and Helen Mirren was touted for an Oscar. People around me, who had no interest in royalty, praised her performance. I found myself rooting for her to win the Oscar. When she did, I became impatient to see this movie. After a long wait, I watched it last night.
The Queen, is set in 1997 during the week following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in a Paris car-crash. One aspect of this movie that is rather refreshing is that it isn't all about Diana. We don't have to deal with conspiracy theories, Dodi, or if an actress played Diana well. Except for a blur of blonde hair getting into the Mercedes on that fateful night, Diana is shown only in archival footage.
While Diana does permeate, the focus of this film is very much on the Queen and her inner conflict with tradition versus common sense. It would have been very easy to make the royals appear insensitive, but the portrayals are sympathetic and human. Queen is not made to be cold and aloof. Prince Charles isn't the villain he was made out to be at the time. Diana isn't sainted. And Prince Philip is...well...Prince Philip.
Helen Mirren gives a dignified performance as The Queen and, in some instances, bears a rather remarkable resemblance to her. James Cromwell, as Prince Philip, provides some comic relief with his irascible behavior and Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mother gives some wry asides. Alex Jennings, who portrays Prince Charles, has the pained expression perfected but, to me, still looks more like George W. Bush.
Through-out the movie it seems that we, the viewers, are getting royal lessons: 'the queen doesn't vote', 'one must keep ones feelings to oneselves', 'this situation is unprecendented', instead of it being part of the natural conversation. A writing teacher once said to me 'show, don't tell', and I think that phrase is somewhat apt for this movie.
We'll never know exactly what happened between Balmoral and Downing Street, but the dialogue seems to have been written from the benefit of hindsight. Did the Queen really not understand the impact of Diana's death? Was Tony Blair really that pivitol in saving the Queen from herself? Like other docudramas, the dialogue does occasionally veer into the extreme when Cherie Blair pronounces to her husband that 'the Queen hated Diana's guts'. Which, from Mirren's performance, I don't get a sense of.
The mixture of Diana footage with unfolding events at Balmoral and Downing Street is very well done. But despite the care taken to get events right, there are still some anachronisms with cell phones and vehicles appearing that didn't exist at the time.
While the outcome of the movie is no surprise, the movie is definately worth watching, if only to get a different view of the Queen from what we've been led to believe.
© Marilyn Braun 2007
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