I don’t like British royalty much. The Monarchy is something that I feel is outdated and which serves no greater purpose other than to prevent British citizens from getting bored. Frankly, their obsession with the Royal family – which I realise is also one that exists worldwide – is a bit strange.
The figurehead of this organisation, Queen Elizabeth II, has always come across, to me, as a zombie of sorts. The deadpan scowl, the glazed look across her eyes, possibly hinting at the realisation that she has resigned herself to the fact that she is forever trapped in her role as the ceremonial ruler of a country obsessed with football and beer. Whenever one sees her on screen or in pictures she is always the same; static and frozen in time – much like the institution that produced her. She doesn’t look like much fun.
This conclusion, of course, is completely unjustified – being based entirely on the representation put forward by the media. With The Queen, the latest film from Stephen Frears (Mrs Henderson Presents, High Fidelity), I found my preconceived notions being challenged and my opinions being swayed … even if only slightly.
Focusing on the events that took place in 1997, after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, The Queen examines the tug of war between recently elected Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) concerning an adequate response and reaction to Diana’s passing. With Diana being somewhat of a sore point for the Royals – having separated from and divorced Prince Charles – the Queen wishes to treat her death in an entirely private manner. Blair (bolstered by public outcry) insists that her life be celebrated publicly. As the uproar around the Queen’s non-response builds, and Blair urges her to change her stance, Elizabeth is forced to re-examine her role and relationship with her people.
The Queen could best be described as a behind the scenes look at the events mentioned above and as such it did a lot to open my eyes – and mind – in response to British royalty. The film humanised Queen Elizabeth II and this, for me, is its greatest achievement. Much like United 93 forced me to do, I was put in a position where I had to re-adjust my thinking and pre-conceived notions in relation to a specific set of events and people.
Helen Mirren (best known to me for her work in TV’s Prime Suspect) does an amazing job of bringing the Queen to life. Her performance exposes the private life and workings of the Queen in an intimate and personal manner and in doing so we are presented with a portrayal of a woman who is steadfast in her role as a ruler – apparently ordained by God – and one who is also painfully aware that her time may be up. Far from being a zombie, she comes across as an incredibly driven woman, alive and ready to fight for what she believes in. Mirren employs the sour face often exhibited by the real Queen to full effect and I agree with the majority consensus that her performance is worthy of awards.
The film itself, however, is not quite as worthy. Stephen Frears has definitely constructed a fascinating watch that engages but, as I was watching The Queen, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing smacked of a television mini-series. You know, that whole BBC drama feel. This may be a result of the fact that Frears and scriptwriter Peter Morgan have worked together previously on a made for television film dealing with Prime Minister Blair (played again by Michael Sheen), entitled The Deal. Frears directs adequately enough and Sheen and Mirren battle it out enjoyably but the whole experience is a tad pedestrian. Having a TV feel is not necessarily a bad thing but The Queen never exhibits the epic qualities I feel are needed to justify the award nominations the film has been receiving.
That said, those people whom I find a bit strange, the Royal fanatics, will delight in this glimpse into the events after Diana’s death. I will admit to being more sympathetic to the plight of the Royals as a result of watching The Queen, it must be tough living in a world where your purpose in life is constantly brought into question and challenged. (However, I am still of the opinion that the British Monarchy is an institution that can be done away with.)
The Queen is an enjoyable 103 minutes that is simply a good film – rather than the award vehicle you may be lead to believe it is – driven by an exceptional performance from its lead.