If you were asked to go watch a movie about the Royal Family’s reaction to Princess Diana’s death, and how they (and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair) handled it, you probably would say “why? who cares?” Indeed, that was my thought too – but then everyone started talking about how good The Queen was. I really enjoyed the score (it’s probably going to be on my “Best of 2006” list), so I figured I should watch the DVD screener that was sent to me a few weeks ago.
The film is a fascinating look into the rigid procedural limitations of the monarchy and Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), contrasted with the modernizing Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), when ex-member of the Royal Family Princess Diana is killed in a car crash in Paris. For the first half of the film, the Queen is portrayed as unfeeling and uncaring, moving the family to their Scotland getaway, instead of addressing the mourning public, who is clamoring for any kind of official reaction. Blair must try to diffuse the growing hatred of the monarchy, while confronting the Queen about her steadfastness to tradition. For instance, the public was outraged that the royal standards were not flying at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. But, the Queen pointed out, the standards only fly when the Queen is present – and they were in Scotland, so it shouldn’t be flying there anyways. Not to mention, it was never flown at half-staff – even when her father died. Blair’s position is that times have changed, and the monarchy – which many people think as outdated and irrelevant – needed to change with it.
The turning point of the film is about halfway through when – alone in the highlands when her vehicle breaks down en route to join Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and Princes William and Harry who are stalking a stag – she finally allows herself to show any emotion of Diana’s death, and breaks down. It’s interesting to see how the constraints of “expected behavior” have affected the Queen, who was crowned at a very young age (and not by choice) when her father died. Mirren does an excellent job with her portrayal, showing us a woman who, under intense pressure and scrutiny, ultimately yields her tradition and upbringing to give in to what the public demands her behavior be.
James Cromwell does a nice job as the steadfast Prince Philip, who (along with the Queen) doesn’t understand why the public is reacting the way they do, and Sylvia Syms is adorable as the Queen Mother – her best line being, when Deputy Private Secretary Robin Jarvin (Roger Allam) informs them that the funeral service will be based on Tay Bridge, responds “but that’s MY funeral!” (Tay Bridge was the code name for the funeral plan.)
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. Inherently it’s not the most interesting of subjects, yet I was drawn to seeing how things played out. It’s got a slow pace at times, but it’s not a overly long film. If you get a chance to see it, The Queen is worth watching – if anything, for Mirren’s performance which is sure to get some Oscar attention.