Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tonight's Movie: The Queen (2006)

I have a longtime interest in European royalty, with the fascinating criss-crossing of relationships in the family trees due to Victoria's descendants marrying into most of the royal houses of Europe.

THE QUEEN was thus of particular interest to me, connecting my love of movies with my years of reading on the British royal family. Having been a young girl myself when Diana married Charles -- back when most of us rather believed the fairy tale, before we knew about issues like Camilla Parker-Bowles -- I was one of the many who stayed up all night to watch the wedding and followed Diana with interest in the years that followed.

In fact, when my husband and I visited London in 1987, we planned our tourist route to coincide with Diana arriving at a couple of "engagements," with a little help from the Court Circular. Seeing her was a fun "extra" amidst our days of touring historic sites. One of her engagements would prove to be rather historic: the day she visited a hospital and shook the hands of AIDS patients without wearing gloves. That made headlines 'round the world. And at the other engagement, a luncheon at Marlborough House near St. James's Palace, we saw Paul McCartney walking down the street, having just dropped off Linda at the same event...

All of which is to say that I was greatly saddened by the breakdown of Charles and Diana's marriage and especially when Diana passed away so suddenly. Whoever would have thought that the royal family's reaction to Diana's death would be the subject of a movie nearly a decade later? What an unusual topic for a film.

It works extremely well, due to excellent work by Helen Mirren as the dignified Queen Elizabeth, James Cromwell as a perpetually cranky Prince Philip, and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. I had trouble swallowing Sylvia Syms' performance as the Queen Mother, but there aren't all that many people who actually know how close her characterization was, so who knows? All in all, they were very well done character studies that will merit another look in future.

The film left me with some unanswered questions -- for instance, very little was communicated about any grief the Queen might have felt about Diana's passing, other than the Queen's expressions of concern for her grandsons and seeming sad or unsettled as she wrote in her diary the night Diana died. Her tears after her Jeep became stuck later in the week might have been for Diana, due to the strain of the escalating "situation," or both. But of course, this scene was imagined, as was much of the what was the reality?

Although the relationship was complicated for many reasons, Diana had been an intimate member of the royal family for many years and was the mother of the Queen's grandchildren. How did the Queen feel? Was she as strictly focused on protocol that following week as the film suggests? Or perhaps she was unable to focus on the grief she might have otherwise felt, as circumstances quickly changed from the private family mourning the Queen envisioned to a state affair? Or was Diana at that point simply an annoyance, as conveyed by Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, and her passing was not great cause for sadness?

Perhaps one day we'll have more insight into those questions than the movie's "educated guess."

THE QUEEN was directed by Stephen Frears. It runs somewhere between 97 minutes (IMDb) and 103 minutes (the DVD box).

For more on the background of actor James Cromwell, please see my post on the film SON OF FURY, which was directed by his father, John Cromwell.

THE QUEEN is available on a widescreen DVD. The DVD contains two commentary tracks. I am currently partway through the track by historian Robert Lacey (author of MAJESTY and other books on royals), and it is quite interesting. Sadly, the DVD does not contain a trailer, which is always the first thing I look for on a new DVD. It does contain a brief featurette.

This film was worth the wait, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet seen it.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

This movie is indeed a wonder to behold .. I'm definitely glad that Dame Mirren finally won the big prize, though Dame Dench was also just a blast in "Notes on a Scandal" too

12:36 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

I enjoyed the film immensely. My thought re the queen's grief toward Diana was that sadly it was very limited. She was more compassionate toward her dogs - and yet I doubt they brought her public shame. If anything the film really evidenced the enormous divide between the royal family and the average person. Quite seemingly unbridgeable. (I loved how stunned the queen was that the public disapproved of the lack of grief evidenced by the royal family...very telling).

7:03 PM  
Blogger jau said...

I'm an enthusiastic Helen Mirren fan and thought she and the cast did a good job (except for the guy playing Prince Charles who painted him as a caricature - which is not to say that Charles' behavior wasn't ghastly, but that's a different subject).

However, the movie made me quite uncomfortable because, after watching it, viewers judge people on the basis of information that is almost entirely imagined.

As Laura points out about Queen Mary, we simply have no way to know what any of these people actually felt or thought. Elizabeth was raised in the decades before WW2 when everyone was trained to be restrained (Americans too, believe it or not), and she's spent nearly sixty years as a figurehead monarch with no political powers. There's never been even as much access to her as to movie stars and other celebrities. Diana apparently liked celebrity and its glitter although she sometimes also wanted privacy, but even our awareness of her feelings is imagined. I am reminded of Amadeus, in which we are presented with Mozart's flaws and goofiness, and yet facts are simply not known at all.

7:19 AM  

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