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  • 12A
  • Biography, Drama
  • 2006
  • 99 mins

The Queen

The Queen

Synopsis

Helen Mirren stars in this drama about the relationship between the Queen and Tony Blair in the wake of Princess Diana's death

About

A week, they say, is a long time in politics. Early on the morning of 1 September 1997, ex-HRH Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed died in a car accident in Paris, and over the next seven days, the Royal family endured repeated criticisms from a baying press until it finally bowed to the sentiments of the people that it had misjudged.

Stephen Frears' feature-length docudrama The Queen traces the twists and turns of that week, in which the aging Monarch (Mirren) comes to realise that "one needs to modernise", while her young Prime Minister (Sheen) decides that he is not, after all, for revolution.

If The Queen pinpoints the moment of a nation's transition from old-fashioned tradition to a more easy-going flexibility, it plays itself out as a tale of two families (the Royals and the Blairs), presenting monumental events as domestic drama. This is certainly an effective way of making constitutional issues engaging to 'the people', but it also brings home a problem that the film is never really able to surmount: that the Queen and her relatives are essentially a phenomenon best suited to the small screen.

Witness the number of scenes in which the Windsors and the Blairs are shown at home watching events unfold on their own television sets, and it becomes increasingly difficult for The Queen to justify its big-screen crown - and it does not help that the film reunites director Frears, writer Peter Morgan, producers Christine Langan and Andy Harries, and actor Michael Sheen (once again as Tony Blair), who all previously collaborated on television's 'The Deal' (2003), while it was only last year that Helen Mirren appeared on TV as another monarch in 'Elizabeth I' (2005).

In its attempt to reveal what "really" goes on behind doors at Balmoral or Downing Street, The Queen also struggles to settle on a consistent tone. One minute it wants to be a serious character study, showing the Queen's composure lost and regained, and Blair's discovery of his conservative instincts; the next, it drifts into satirical lampoon, with Princes Philip (Cromwell) and Charles (Jennings) in particular cutting buffoonish stereotypes all too familiar from their 'Spitting Image' days, while on the other side Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley) and even Blair at times seem more like caricatures than characters.

Either a serious or a comic approach would be acceptable enough on its own, but together they just undermine one another, offering a confusing portrait of the Queen's public and private faces that is part sober drama, part high camp, part soap opera, and part right royal romp. Perhaps this is the whole point - the Queen will always be reducible to tabloid-style affection mixed with ridicule - but when events still so fresh in our minds are treated with so little insight, the film risks slipping into lazy 'I Love The Nineties'-style nostalgia.

Still, The Queen really comes into its own with its immaculate performances, its beautiful photography, and its seamless blending of real and 'reconstructed' footage. Although it documents the week when the Royals faced the greatest threat to their status, as a tale of the transience of popularity and power, The Queen is equally about Blair, that other head of state who was in the ascendant in 1997, but who, at the time of the film's release in 2006, looks as obsolete and out of touch as the Monarch that he then saw fit to advise. Nine years, it seems, is also a very long time in politics.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Helen Mirren, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Michael Sheen, Roger Allam, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Screen Writer: Peter Morgan
  • Producer: Tracey Seaward, Christine Langan, Andy Harries
  • Photographer: Affonso Beato
  • Composer: Alexandre Desplat

In a nutshell

It may be uneven, it may be better suited to the small screen, but it is never less than entertaining for staunch Royalists and committed Republicans alike.

by Anton Bitel

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