The Queen

(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry) 

        Helen Mirren is one of my favorites. She's a very good actress as well as having a penchant for taking her top off in her movies. And even though she just turned 60, she isn't slowing down or keeping her top on, as can be "seen" in her recent appearances in Calendar Girls and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. She also has two Oscar nominations (Gosford Park & The Madness King George), two best actress wins at Cannes, eight Emmy nominations (3 wins), and five Golden Globe nominations (1 win). And she just won her latest Emmy for playing Queen Elizabeth I in an HBO Miniseries. Now hard on the heels of that role, she is playing Queen Elizabeth II. This new film, The Queen, focuses on the events surrounding the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Almost all of the action in The Queen is contained in the week from Diana's death in a car crash to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. We see Diana only in newsreel footage which lends a documentary feel to the movie. The rest of the Royal family are portrayed by Mirren (Elizabeth), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles) and Sylvia Syms (The Queen Mother). Also, playing large roles in the movie are Tony and Cherie Blair (Michael Sheen & Helen McCrory) and the Queen's Private Secretary (Roger Allam). The Queen follows the enormous outpouring of grief for Diana by the people of Britain, while Elizabeth and Philip watch incredulously from their Balmoral estate in Scotland. Recently elected as Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is incredulous that Elizabeth is staying in Scotland and doing nothing in response. He tries to convince her that, despite her ambivalent feelings about Diana, she must show her grief in public.

        I think this is a great film. The Queen, along with House of Sand, are the best movies of the year so far. The Queen was directed by Stephen Frears, who has done some very good work in the past including High Fidelity (my #1 film of 2000), Dirty Pretty Things (my #1 film of 2003), The Grifters and My Beautiful Laundrette (Daniel Day Lewis' breakout movie). Frears has chosen a very delicate subject for this film. It is delicate because it is about the still living Queen of England, and also because Diana and her treatment by the Royal family is still a very emotional issue. But he and screenwriter, Peter Morgan, do a very good job with what is essentially a work of fiction set among real events. Almost the entire film, besides the news footage, is speculation of what the Queen and Tony Blair did and said during that week. Very little of it is actually known. But what is shown in The Queen, thanks to Frears and especially, thanks to Helen Mirren, feels very real. Mirren's amazing accomplishment in The Queen, is in making Elizabeth into a real three-dimensional person. In The Queen, what Mirren as Elizabeth does and says during that week in 1997 make perfect sense. She is helped by a nice supporting cast, particularly Michael Sheen as Blair and James Cromwell as Philip. I always think of Cromwell as Australian because of Babe, but he is American. He does a nice job with the very non-pc Prince Philip and Sheen is very good as Blair.

        It is always hard for me to accept actors playing real people who are still alive. But I had no trouble with this cast of characters. They pulled me right into the story. There is no real action in The Queen but it becomes a tense emotional story as Elizabeth realizes that she has to change with the times if she is to retain the love of the British people. Having grown up in Canada in 1960's, I still have a great affection for her. And I have to say I got a bit verklempt at the end. Anyway, this is definitely a film to go and see. It should be nominated for Best Picture and Helen Mirren for Best Actress. And she doesn't even take her top off.