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The Queen

The Queen is majestic. One of the best movies of the year, with a stunning tour de force performance from Helen Mirren.


Set primarily in the week following the death of Princess Diana, when the nation was mourning for "the people's princess," the events largely escaped the notice of the Queen Elizabeth (Mirren), who was on vacation at her Scottish estate. Without any official statement or public expression of grief coming from Buckingham Palace, public sentiment began to turn against the Queen, to the point that some were calling for the end of the monarchy itself. The newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), just four months in office, found himself in the difficult position of trying to convince Her Majesty that she should respond to the public outpouring of grief, even though Diana was technically no longer a royal at the time of her death. There followed a dialogue between modernity and the monarchy, between honoring tradition and giving into public demands.


Mirren is always regal and commanding--she's already played two queens previously--and does absolute justice to the very tricky task of portraying a living, high-profile subject in a sympathetic light. We see the stiff, frumpy monarch we've glimpsed in photographs and on television, but through Mirren we also see Queen Elizabeth's wry humor and her deep sense of honor and duty. And we see her confidence falter during this crisis, in which she realizes just how horribly out of touch she has become with her subjects. Mirren's Oscar nomination is guaranteed. Sheen takes on the role of the brash novice P.M. with great aplomb. His Blair (whom he played previously in a TV film set before The Queen) is a man who's eager to modernize the stodgy, tradition-bound British government, but also someone with a surprising devotion to the Queen. He's easily the most sympathetic character in the film. We might admire Queen Elizabeth, but we can't help genuinely liking and trusting this young populist who's so plugged into the nation's mood. Stage actor Alex Jennings is less effective as Prince Charles, partly because he looks nothing like him. Although he's portrayed as deeply affected by Diana's death, he comes off as spoiled and petulant. James Cromwell(Babe) is an unlikely choice to portray Prince Philip, the Queen's husband. Here, he is a cranky, traditionalist who decries the "celebrities and homosexuals" being invited to Diana's funeral and and is convinced that the hordes of people crying in the streets over her will eventually "come to their senses."


On the surface, a look at how Queen Elizabeth and the royal family coped with the tragedy of Diana's death doesn't seem the likeliest subject for a film, and certainly not one that would yield such entertaining results. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have managed to capture not just a historic moment in time when tradition and the modern world clashed, but when the monarchy looked on the brink of collapse. Frears and Morgan undertook a tremendous amount of research and spoke to dozens of sources to create this surprisingly respectful peek behind closed doors of the ruling elite. One wonders if Prince Philip really calls his wife "cabbage," but the daily routines and the milieus for the characters have an air of authenticity. The film seamlessly blends archival scenes with recreations, especially impressive during Diana's funeral. The film is restrained and subtle, much like the England the queen says she admires, but it has a wry sense of humor that sneaks in, such as when Blair and his wife are being instructed in the necessary rituals of bowing and scraping for their first meeting with Her Majesty.

Bottom Line rated this film 4 stars.