The Queen (2006)


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.


Following the sudden death of Princess Diana, and the with the glare of the world upon her, Queen Elizabeth II (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 (Sheen) who recall her to London, despite this going against protocol and every fibre in her being.


Mirren curtseyed her way to her first Best Actress Oscar (and repeated this at so many other film awards around the world, including the BAFTA’s, that it’s a wonder she didn’t need to check in for knee replacement surgery) for what then seemed like a tricky task – humanising the genial but decidedly frosty titular royal.

The power behind this performance cannot be underestimated, particularly if one happens to be a member of ‘The Firm’ as Diana mockingly called the British royal family. Following this film’s release, there has been a not entirely coincidental (and huge) growth in popularity for the head of the House of Windsor since the film was released.

Diana’s death in 1996 rocked the British Royal Family like nothing else since the abdication of old playboy King Eddie 60 years previous and their popularity had been in the doldrums ever since. Mirren’s genius (and Frears and Morgan’s, but more of them later) 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 monarchal matriarch. At the same time, Mirren went from being a well-known but somewhat remote British Grande dame of the theatre to a hugely successful movie actress, also known for showing off her buxom figure in daring red bikinis, splashed across the tabloid press.

Morgan is a deft writer and ably transports you back to that time in British society when, with the ascension of our youngest every 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 Frears, a dab hand with such performances, the chance to spin a little modern day fairy-tale of royal redemption.

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.



Hugo (2011)


Director: Martin Scorsese. Paramount/GK Films/Infinitum Nihil.


Producers: Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese. Writer: John Logan. Camera: Robert Richardson. Music: Howard Shore. Sets: Dante Ferretti.

Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law.


Young orphan Hugo (Butterfield) lives amongst the clocks at a Paris train station since his drunken uncle Claude (Winstone) disappeared. One day he is caught stealing from elderly toy-maker Georges (Kingsley) an act that sees the two become good friends and Hugo discovering that Georges is none other than the grandfather of cinema, Georges Melies, who has fallen on hard times since becoming bankrupt. Despite Georges reluctance, Hugo sets about helping him gain the recognition he deserves for his magical early films.


The silent movie seems to be making an appropriately quiet comeback of late: The Artist is set for release early in 2011 and concerns a silent movie hero worrying whether he will cut it in the ‘talkies’ and is tipped for big nominations during the awards season. Veteran director Scorsese warms us up with this, his homage to early movie maestro Georges Melies, adapted from the novel ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick, a relative of another major figure in cinema (Gone With the Wind producer David O.).

Odd to see Scorsese the maestro behind the ultra violent Taxi Driver and Goodfellas attached to what is a whimsical children’s tale. But Scorsese, more than anything else, is a self-avowed movie nut so there is probably no better director than he to big-up the grand old codger of the cinematograph, as it was known in Melies’ day.

His decision to film entirely in 3D is a risky one: it adds extra expense to a production and can be the mark of a poor film that needs a gimmick to bolster box office courage (Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the last instalment in the Narnia trilogy, Voyage of the Dawn Treader being some examples). By and large it is utilised correctly here, adding an extra level of depth to the proceedings. The most noteworthy aspects of the production design, the ever present cogs, levers, motions, pistons and steam that swing and shunt about the screen, pop out with wonderful effect.

Of course, it goes without saying that Scorsese knows how and where to point his camera, readily apparent here in the amazing opening tracking shot above Paris, flying into the train station, through the throng of passengers and up into the clock that Hugo lives behind.

What a shame then that the story is so very slight, almost inconsequential. It bimbles along pleasently (and slowly) enough, but Hugo’s story becomes a thing of the past itself as Scorsese clearly has eyes for another’s films. His interest (and therefore the film) only gets fired up when the most famous faces and images of the silent era whizz past us for a robust introduction to earily cinema. Later on, he repeats this affection when Melies proudly fesses up about who he once was and charts his illustrious former career. Scorsese gives us an enchanting sequence of what remains of Melies’ back catalogue of trick films, including the famous Voyage to the Moon.

The performances are lovely all-round, despite not one actor offering a French accent. Kingsley is the perfect choice for Melies and plays him like a grouchy grandfather who is mad at the world but dotes on his family. Baron-Cohen amuses as the station inspector obsessed with rounding up the city’s orphans and Lee has a nice cameo playing against type as a kindly book shop owner. McCrory is also noteworthy in a touching, gently judged turn as Melies’ wife and muse Jeanne.

Scorsese has a cameo as a photographer and Selznick also appears briefly as a student.