Slow in pace but beautifully realized, “The Queen” paints a portrait of one of the most devastating events in modern British history, and how it affected the two most important people in the country, Queen Elizabeth II and freshly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair.
On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana, ex-wife of Prince Charles, heir apparent to the throne, was killed in an auto accident in Paris. “The Queen” concerns itself with the events between Blair and the Queen in the week between Di’s death and her funeral a week later.
What director Stephen Frears (“High Fidelity”) has shown us is the look from the inside. In 1997, it was easy for the British public, and indeed the world to stand from the outside looking in, judging the Royal family’s handling of the death of Princess Diana. But what we don’t get while we’re our own high horse is what Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and the rest of the family was actually going through. And this film shows a considerable amount personal grief over Di’s death, and personal conflict between their duty to the people, and their need to personally grieve.
Peter Morgan’s (“The Last King of Scotland”) screenplay is powerfully effective, if slow moving. But it shouldn’t be faulted for being slow moving. It’s more of a mournful, thoughtful piece about the people involved, than it is about plot development. It’s a plot we’re all familiar with, so it focuses all of its energy on telling the story, then developing it.
Helen Mirren (“Gosford Park”) recently won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for her powerhouse performance as Queen Elizabeth II, and she is certainly worthy of all the accolades she is receiving. She handled the quiet, solemnity of her character with the proper amount of grace one would expect of the Queen. What marks a standout performance for me is if I can imagine anyone else in that role, and I couldn’t. She was perfect. Vegas odds makers have even stopped taking bets on the “Best Actress” category for this year’s Oscars, as they consider her to be a shoe-in.
The rest of the cast is simply magnificent. Michael Sheen (“Kingdom of Heaven”) was superb as the conflicted, opportunistic and eventually sympathetic Tony Blair. In the past 10 years, Blair has made some political missteps, in the eyes of his countrymen, and those must be overlooked to properly appreciate his character in this film. This was the Tony Blair of 1997, just five months into his first term, not the Tony Blair of 2003 who made the unpopular decision of backing President Bush in Iraq. Sheen did a fantastic job of portraying the rookie Prime Minister, and at times outshines Mirren, though unfortunately isn’t getting quite the same notice as she is.
James Cromwell (“L.A. Confidential”) as the bullheaded Prince Philip (Elizabeth’s husband) was a great dynamic for the soft spoken Queen. And Alex Jennings (“The Four Feathers”) was pitch-perfect as the shy, wishy-washy Prince Charles.
I can’t recommend “The Queen” for everyone. It’s not for everyone. It’s distinctly a British film. There’s so much in the film concerning British politics, culture and society that would just confuse those who aren’t familiar with it. It would be perfect for a more worldly crowd. It is, however, a beautifully made film with some of the finest performances of the year and would love to see it take home an Oscar or two.