The Queen Movie Review
Review written by Nathan Vass
I feel compelled to inform you that The Queen is an entertaining movie. The publicity materials seem to indicate otherwise, suggesting that it is yet another of those dry, so very "British" films that seem more at home on the Hallmark channel than the multiplex. That is most definitely not the case. The Queen is about the clash between the old school and the new school, and viewers of both age groups will be able to relate to the dilemmas the film portrays. On top of that, the film's primary subject matter- Princess Diana's death and funeral - is an interesting moment in recent history that's dealt with in an engaging way.
The film begins with the appointing of Tony Blair as the new Prime Minister. In his first meeting with HM Queen Elizabeth II, we see how large the generational gap is between them. The Queen couldn't be more rooted in tradition, surrounded with luxury and slavishly adhering to ideas and etiquette she has grown up with. Blair is in many ways her opposite, a young male dubbed "the modernizer," with an eye on "shaking up" the establishment. Shortly after Blair is appointed, the beloved Princess Diana dies in the now famous car accident, chased by aggressive paparazzi on motorcycles.
The film's primary focus is the clash between Blair and the Queen on what to do about the matter. She feels no need to hold a public funeral, or even make a public statement; he strongly feels the opposite. Blair realizes the need to be involved in the public's grief, purely on a human interest level. To him, the need to make a statement is common sense. The Queen and those around her cannot understand how this is a good idea, and feel that the public's worship of the Princess is largely unwarranted. In fact, the level of reaction to her death comes as quite a surprise to the isolated world of Elizabeth and her royal court. Thus, the two individuals, both strong, determined personalities, duke it out for the remainder of the film.
Admirably, the film approaches this conflict without dressing it up. At the same time, this clash isn't depicted as a simplified power struggle; nor does the film reduce the characters to enigmas who exist only to combat each other. Instead, we see two polite, understanding people who happen to have severely differing ideologies. Moreover, these characters actually want to understand each other, despite their differences. The script sympathizes with both of them, and is so effectively compassionate in portraying both sides that even a young buck like myself could empathize with the Queen's outwardly remote behavior.
Stephen Frears' direction is competent but not enthralling. The film is paced well, running a brisk 97 minutes. It must also be said that he handles the inevitable "Diana is dead" and "Oscar crying scene" sequences quite well. In terms of craft, The Queen is not something that will have photographers and editors agape. What it lacks in aesthetics, however, it more than makes up for in acting. Helen Mirren's performance is fantastic; she imbues the character with a blunt, forthright exterior and yet manages to reveal hidden reserves of suppressed emotion. I'm referring to the great scene after The Queen's car breaks down in the wilderness; you'll know what I'm referring to when you see it. Michael Sheen, last seen in Underworld: Evolution, delivers an astronomically better performance here. Within five minutes, you'll come to accept Mirren and Sheen as the real Queen and Blair, respectively, despite the obvious facial differences. They manage the impressive feat of Anthony Hopkins' towering performance in Nixon - overcoming physical differences and becoming the character through sheer force of talent.
I have only a basic working knowledge of the plot's subject matter, and am curious to know how it plays to a more informed audience. At the time of this writing, the film has not opened in the UK. I imagine it might carry a stronger emotional resonance, despite perhaps being a bit more predictable. In any case, to see the inner workings and backroom struggles of such a well-known event is sure to be of great interest to anyone.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.