Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stepehn Frears
Stars: helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, Helen McCrory, James Cromwell
When the annual awards season heats up, much of the focus is likely to fall on Helen Mirren, who is a certainty to capture most of the acting gongs for her wonderful performance as Queen Elizabeth II in the excellent drama The Queen.
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, the film is set during the week following the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris in 1997, when public opinion turned against the Royal Family. While the public mourned the death of “the people’s princess”, the royal family remained silent and reclusive behind the walls of their Balmoral Palace, hunting and carrying on as normal.
Back in London the newly elected Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the youngest Prime Minister in over a century, tries to bulldoze his way through centuries of entrenched protocol to save the monarch from itself. Despite his reformist agenda aimed at largely stripping away much of the traditional privileges of the establishment, Blair slowly falls under the spell of the Queen’s charisma. He tries to convince the stoic Queen to forget her upbringing and training and break her silence to address the public outpouring of emotion and grief, and also to counter the growing media backlash.
Frears and Morgan (who previously collaborated on the telemovie The Deal) have drawn on lots of in-depth interviews and historical research to flesh out the detail of life behind the guarded walls of the Royal Family. Director Frears has long been an acute observer of England’s antiquated class system (My Beautiful Laundrette, etc). Here he probes behind the facade of the Royal Family for a rare glimpse into their very private world of privilege and power, and largely finds it wanting.
Its rather unforgiving critique of the behaviour of the Royal Family may also not be to everyone’s taste. However, the film is little too pedestrian in its pacing, and, despite the subject matter, there is little in its mix of fact and fictional reenactments that is sensational or ultimately too controversial.
The casting is uniformly excellent, with most of the principal actors bearing a close resemblance to their characters. Sheen, who also played the young Blair in The Deal, is superb as the enthusiastic but somewhat naïve tyro PM, while Helen McCrory is suitably arch as his wife Cherie, who watches with bemusement as he fawns over the queen. James Cromwell brings some humour to proceedings with his gruff and blunt impersonation of Prince Phillip. Princess Di appears through carefully selected archival footage, but her presence permeates the film.
But it is Mirren who fittingly dominates the film with her assured performance that not only brings some humanity and sympathy to a character who has led most of her life in the spotlight of public scrutiny but also captures her flaws and moments of self-doubt. Not only does she capture the physical characteristics of Queen Elizabeth II, but she also conveys the more introspective moments that hint at the inner turmoil of the beleaguered monarch who feels she may have misjudged the mood of the British public.