“The Queen” attempts to make British Royalty understandable in typical British style; with diverse but subdued emotions. Finely directed by Stephen Frears, and complexly written by Peter Morgan, “The Queen” tries to offer an explanation to the strange behavior of the royals after Princess Diana’s death. “The Queen” is a teeter-totter story of the balance between old and new.
Queen Elizabeth the Second, regally portrayed by Helen Mirren, strikes an uncaring and cold cord to the British people and the world when Princess Diana is killed. She refuses to address the nation. She refuses to allow her grand children to go to Paris to see her body. She even refuses to allow Prince Charles, Alex Jenning’s character, to fly on the royal jet to see Diana while she is in critical care. When Diana finally dies, she doesn’t want a public funeral. The British people cry out for her attention and she provides none.
Diana’s death is not the beginning of the change, it is the catalyst that requires the royal family to realize a need for change. While the Queen’s actions would seem crass to the outside world, the Queen struggles to keep up royal tradition, and propriety while balancing moving her people, and herself into a modern world. She wonders if she even understands her people anymore.
It doesn’t help her that she is surrounded by people who believe fully in the old guard. Prince Phillip, James Cromwell’s character, staunchly believes that royal society is beyond the need for change and verily spews his upper crust garbage all over the Queen. Prince Charles, played by Alex Jennings, is a sniveling weakling. The Queen Mother, Sylvia Syms’ character, comically embraces the old ways and can’t embrace the changes in the British people.
The only person whispering words of change in her ear is newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair. Michael Sheen portrays the new to office Blair who has a strong affection for the Queen but wants desperately for the country to move forward into the modern world. He handles the Queen with kid’s gloves. He gives her advice, as delicately but persistently.
Helen Mirren portrays the Queen with an over reaching, understated, grace. Her stoic demeanor is rarely breached by emotion but when it is, it looks so painful, almost harmful, that you feel every rare drop that seeps out. To me it felt like watching a great dam fill. Even if the great dam still spills over only a drop, it’s scary. Mirren also takes care not to villianize the Queen. By the end of the movie you see the queen as less of an odd, in bred, emotionless weirdo, and more of a leader forced to bridge the gap between the way things were and the way things will be.
Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Tony Blair is exhaustively dimensional. Blair struggles personally with his own values. He has great affection for the Queen for personal reasons but his view of the path the country should be on is drastically different from the Queen’s. He doesn’t go into melodramatic flights of emotional bouncy-ball instead Sheen gives Blair’s conflict a sincere sense comedy. Sheen makes Blair one of the most interesting, fun characters to watch in the movie.
Thank goodness for Sylvia Syms. The Queen Mother always blurts some smart quip, usually including her outdated opinion. Still, it is always worth a laugh. Sometimes you are laughing at her, sometimes with her, but always laughing. The Queen Mother’s personality is polar opposite from the Queen. She has no restraint, doesn’t wait to be asked her opinion and spews old world ideas all over new world situations.
“The Queen’s” screenplay is the epitome of UK personality. While it is chalked full of insightful dimension, the plot is unobtrusive and mellow. None of the character’s development happens in one climatic scene, nor is any one scene more or less important than another. “The Queen” requires more thought then just the average movie and the full beauty of the film is only comes to fruition after some thought.