Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

United Kingdom 2006
Directed by
Stephen Frears
83 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Queen

Synopsis: In May of 1997 Britain elects a new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Barely four months into his term, on September 1st, England  awakes to the news that Princess Diana has been killed in a car accident. While the British public struggle with their grief, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and her family retreat to Balmoral castle, unable to understand the outpouring of emotion. It is up to Blair to try to bridge the gap between the public and their monarch.

Let me stress, you do not have to be a monarchist to enjoy this wonderful film with its brilliant performances. On one level, the film deals with the events of the time, with which many of us are familiar, and the fact that the royal family had been much upset by Princess Di’s behaviour and wanted to distance themselves from her, even in her death, despite the unassailable evidence that the public adored her and wanted acknowledgment by the monarchy of her death. But beyond the surface facts, The Queen gives us a fascinating insight into the lives of the royal family (as interpreted by Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan), in a way we could otherwise never be privy to. Apparently, as Morgan wrote the screenplay, he had a team of researchers finding anyone who was close to the royal family and prepared to talk. These people ranged from secretaries, to butlers, to equerries to civil servants. All their input adds to the feeling of authenticity, but of course there are still plenty of moments where the writer can only speculate what Her Maj would have said, such as the delightful scene in which she curses after breaking the axle on the royal jeep, or Prince Phillip’s pet name for her as he slips into bed beside his wife as well as the strained interactions between Charles and his mother.

Along with this riveting focus on the Queen and her family there is also valuable insight into the making of a statesman, the newly-elected Blair, who is able to gauge the mood of his people and rise to the occasion. We see him go from a comparatively gauche and nervous man to one who deals confidently and persuasively with his monarch.  The dramatic tension is palpable, as the old world of pomp, tradition, formality and inherited power clashes with the new world of popularly-elected power and a modern style of casualness that the monarchy seems at pains to comprehend.  

There has already been a raft of nominations and awards for this film, and justifiably so, with none so deserved as that of Mirren as Best Actress. In a word, she is phenomenal. Putting aside her normally sexy image, she morphs in HRH, from her precise voice and her gestures, through to her appearance. Her supporting cast are up there in the acting stakes too. James Cromwell as the Duke, is uncannily convincing in a highly unflattering portrait, while Alex Jennings though not looking like Charles, captures the essence of the Prince’s gestures, expressions and voice. British screen veteran Sylvia Sims as the Queen Mother does the ancient dowager to a tee. Michael Sheen not only looks like Blair, but had me convinced by the film’s conclusion that he was Blair.

It’s testament to the writing and the performances that what could have been a rather dry topic has a great deal of emotion in it. We actually end up feeling some compassion for the royals, trapped in hide-bound tradition, brought up to never show their feelings and seemingly unable to take a step forward into understanding the modern world. By the film’s conclusion we have empathy for the onerous task of being a monarch as well as admiration for the young PM who steps into the breach and rises to the occasion, saving the royal skins and making a much-respected name for himself, at least for a while, Her Maj's remarks to him on the fickleness of public approbation coming only too true.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst