The Queen

Nominations:

  • Actress – Leading: Helen Mirren
  • Best Picture
  • Directing
  • Original Score
  • Screenplay – Original

The Black-and-White:

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard that Princess Diana had been in a car accident?

The Queen provides a fictional answer to that question for the two key leaders in the UK: then-new prime minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II. The movie cobbles together conjecture, actual news footage, and wishful thinking in an attempt to explain what was going through the minds and hearts of these heads of state in the weeks immediately following Diana’s death.

We were not amused.

Honestly, I don’t know what the purpose of this film is. At the time of the accident, I was as caught up in the drama and worldwide mourning as anyone. I even brought flowers from our garden down to the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue and signed the book of mourning there.

Yet, I did not spend a lot ofany time wondering what the Queen was thinking in the days after Diana’s accident. I was not particularly troubled that there was no statement from Queen Elizabeth immediately following Diana’s death. It never occurred to me that the Royal Standard should have been flown at half-mast at Buckingham Palace, given that Queen Elizabeth was not actually at Buckingham Palace. I didn’t expect anything from the Royal Family given that Diana was not legally a member of that family anymore.

Thus, 97 minutes of will-she, won’t-she handwringing was almost more than I could bear. It would be one thing if something — anything — other than the names and places had a basis in fact. As it was, it seemed little more than love song to the Queen herself. That, or a public relations effort to remind the world of the Queen’s admirable devotion and duty as she cruises into her 56th year on the throne.

This is as much a story about the Queen as mother, wife, daughter, grandmother, and mother-in-law, as it is about her role as sovereign. It is about her internal struggle to Do The Right Thing by her subjects, while protecting her grandchildren and their privacy. Ultimately, she has a moment of quiet self-discovery and, Grinch-like, her heart melts. If you had not already known the entire basic story from the news, and if it were wholly fictional without the real-life personas — the premise is not uninteresting. However, I found it difficult to separate the real characters and events from the invented situations and dialogue and it all fell flat after that.

Moreover, Stephen Frears’s direction felt more like movie of the week than movie of the year. The performances — particularly the Queen Mother, Charles, and Philip — were beyond stereotyped.

Or perhaps I just misunderstood what he was trying to achieve. Many of the other reviews I’d seen billed this as a comedy(??), or have praised Frears’s wicked skewering of the Royal Family. Maybe I just missed the satire amongst the yawns.

Helen Mirren is favored to win the best actress category, and her portrayal of Elizabeth II was studied and careful. But in the end, the character seemed less than believable to me. It’s not Mirren’s fault, really — much of why I found her performance unsatisfactory is that it so accurately mimics the Queen’s mannerisms and intonations tacked onto a wholly fictional persona. It reminds me of Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, which I also found caricature-esque. I just don’t think that it’s possible to create a three-dimensional character from two-dimensional source material (since I assume that Mirren is not a close personal friend of the Queen’s) Rather than humanize the Queen, any depth she tried to give her character just rang false to me.

The Queen is also nominated for original screenplay. Peter Morgan (who also wrote Last King of Scotland, which I didn’t love) did a good job with respect to making the backstory we already knew still seem interesting. But the dialogue was stilted and the moment of epiphany forced, and I found myself wondering whether I should have just waited for this to show up on Lifetime instead.

I also didn’t find the movie particularly memorable for the costumes or music, the other two areas that this film was nominated for.

Depsite all of these criticisms, it was not an unpleasant movie to sit through (not like, say, Blood Diamond). I just wish we hadn’t paid money to see in the theater when it would have been just as enjoyable on the small screen.

As a side note, I thought it was very strange that they never mentioned Mother Teresa’s death, only 5 days after Diana died. The Queen had met Mother Teresa on at least one occasion, and it would have been interesting for her to have compared the reaction to Diana’s death to the reaction to Mother Teresa’s as part of her justificaton for staying holed up in Scotland.

I mean, if we’re already rewriting history, why not?

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