Film review by Jason Day of The Queen, the drama chronicling Queen Elizabeth II’s (Helen Mirren) days immediately following the death of Princess Diana and the fallout for the British Royal Family.
Following the sudden death of Princess Diana, and the with the glare of the world upon her, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) retreats with her family to grieve on her Balmoral estate in Scotland. To her consternation, this does not sit well with the public, media or her new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) who recall her to London, despite this going against protocol and every fibre in her being.
Mirren curtseyed her way to a Best Actress Oscar for her genial and sympathetic performance as Queen Elizabeth II.
She repeated this move at so many other film awards around the world that it’s a wonder she didn’t need to check in for knee replacement surgery after scooping a BAFTA, Golden Globe and umpteen other gongs and statuettes.
The awards and nominations were given for what then seemed like the trickiest acting task imaginable, adding flesh and emotion to a woman whose personal views are kept famously tucked away from the public.
Humanising this briskly professional but mysterious and aloof public figure, someone almost everyone on the planet knows but knows little about, can’t have been easy. So full kudos to screenwriter Peter Morgan for perceptively filling in the gaps for some candid ‘behind the throne’ tittle tattle.
Morgan deftly transports you back to that time in British society when, with the ascension of our youngest Prime Minister, buoyed on the landslide victory for New Labour, when we really did all believe that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’.
Well, funny how fate can deal you a different hand, but his factual-sounding script pushes further with some delicious comedy from Blair and his aggressive spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Bazeley) and Blair making a total balls up of his first audience with her Maj. It gives director Frears the chance to spin a little modern day fairy-tale of royal redemption.
Mirren’s genius is to strip away the public facade of duty, tradition and adherence to court protocol and reveal the human beneath. Queen Elizabeth becomes a touching, concerned, loving matriarch. At the same time, Mirren went from being a well-known grande dame of the theatre to a hugely successful movie actress.
Sheen had already played Blair before on TV (The Deal) and would do so again (The Special Relationship) so he probably had this impersonation-veering-on-parody in his blood, but it’s interesting to watch his Blair grow in stature as the Queen’s status diminishes.
McCrory makes his wife Cherie as toe-curlingly embarrassing and forthright as those unfortunate headlines and scandals during her husband’s tenure painted her as being. This might not be the real Cherie Blair, but it’s the best approximation.
Cast & credits
Director: Stephen Frears. Pathe/Granada/Canal+/Future Films/BIM/Scott Rudin.
Producers: Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward.
Writer: Peter Morgan.
Camera: Affonso Beato.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Sets: Alan MacDonald.
Helen Mirren, James Cromwell, Michael Sheen, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Sylvia Syms, Roger Allam, Mark Bazeley, Gray O’Brien.