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the queen

The Queen
Directed by:
Stephen Frears
Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms

Written by:
Ricardo Barberini

January 29, 2007

What do you think happens when you isolate a group of people in seclusion for many many generations?  Emotional retardation!  That is what Cherie Blair says in the movie. 


Think about it, that is what is happening to the Royal Family in Britain.  Multiple generations living behind gated walls intermarrying and being cosseted by the retinue of their carefully hand picked servants and flunkies.

And so it came to pass that Elizabeth II thought of herself as anointed by God to be the Queen.  She assumed that being detached from the people was what her subjects wanted and that nearly destroyed the monarchy.

Everyone who has not spent the last ten years or so on the Moon knows the story.  Princess Diana or Diana Princess of Wales as the snobbish British still refer to her was killed in a car accident in August 1997.  It was no secret that she came from a line of nobility which was more ancient and British than the House of Windsor which has more German blood in it than probably the last German Kaiser had.  However, she was still considered an outsider by them. 

Diana was brought up as a free thinking open person and she was extremely frank and outspoken in her views.  The Royal Family managed to force her out of her position as a potential Queen.  Perhaps in revenge or perhaps on rebound from a failed marriage and the structured life at the Palace, she embarked upon a series of reckless activities until she met and fell in love with a rich Egyptian of low birth by the name of Dodi Al Fayed.  Their whirlwind romance became the staple diet of the tabloids until she was killed in a car accident on Sunday August 31, 1997.  There are many theories about her death with some believing that she was killed by the British Secret Service because she was pregnant with Dodi’s child and the British did not want to have a half Egyptian sister or brother of a future king.  But that is a different story.

The movie deals with the aftermath of her death.  Here we have Tony Blair, played by Michel Sheen, newly elected as the first Labour Party Prime Minister in 18 years trying to deal with the situation.  At his heart he is a monarchist and maybe even an Imperialist as later decisions about the invasion of Iraq have shown.  The people around him, specifically his wife Cherie, think of the Monarchy as an outdated anachronism of the Middle Ages for unlike the Dutch or the Scandinavian Royal Families the Queen and her husband have almost absolutely no connections with the man on the street.  The Queen shows her contempt for the public when she meets Tony Blair, as the Prime Minister, for the first time.  She belittles him by telling him that he is her tenth Prime Minister and that Winston Churchill was her first.  The comparison is intended to put Blair in his place.

Tony’s wife thinks the Royals are a bunch of cold hearted free loaders who live lavishly in their palaces up and down the country at taxpayers’ expense.  Not only that, she along with many of his associates, think that they are a degenerate bunch of natters, as she calls them, and the Monarchy as an institution should be replaced by a Republic.

The seven days that follow the death of the Princess are probably the most historic seven days in the history of modern Britain.  The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are actually not very unhappy to see Diana disappear.  The main concern of the Queen is her grand children.  The Duke, who seems to be floating in a different dimension, plans to take the two youngsters Stag shooting to help them get over their grief for losing their mother!

Tony Blair in attempting to save the Queen and the Royal Family from themselves tries to bring the Queen down to earth.  He makes numerous telephone calls and pleads for her return to London or at least to make a statement about the dead Princess.  The Queen, goaded by her husband and geriatric mother, played skillfully by Sylvia Syms, rejects his suggestions and repeatedly hangs up on him.  The mood in the Country and around the world gets darker and nastier and she still refuses to pay homage to the princess that she had disliked so intensely.

Finally, the mood is really ugly.  Tony Blair has two choices.  Let the Royals hang themselves by showing their cold blooded moronic attachment to their traditions or forcing the Queen’s hand.  Despite his wife’s advice he takes that latter course.  He calls the Queen and reads her the riot act.  Come down to London and pay homage to Diana’s coffin, make a public statement of sorrow and fly the flag on Buckingham Palace at half mast.

Queen Elizabeth II, seeing the handwriting on the wall, defies the wishes of her spaced out husband and her mother and complies with Tony Blair’s demands.  She delivers a public message and attends the funeral but as we can all see, she is ill at ease and there is no sincerity in her actions.  She never liked Diana but she has to save the Crown.

As we have often stated in the past, the British have some of the best actors in the world.  Helen Mirren is amazing in her portrayal of a Queen who is dignified and yet totally out of touch with the latter quarter of the 20th Century.  James Cromwell as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh is equally great.  To think that the real prince is half Greek and he pretends to be a Scotsman by wearing a kilt is hilarious.  Where is the secret Scottish blood one might ask? 

Alex Jennings plays Prince Chares with real pathos.  You feel that he may have really loved both Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles equally.  Many British Kings had mistresses openly and the wives went along with it.  Except; Diana was neither meek or pliant enough to accept the situation.  Roger Allam’s performance as the subservient Royal secretary is quite believable.  Sylvia Syms plays an old and clueless Royal mother to the Queen.  It is a tragedy that Tony betrayed his heritage and ended up with a messy unjustified war.  Otherwise he would have gone down in history as a man who saved a nation from a bruising internal conflict which could have toppled the monarchy.  He is probably kicking himself for aligning his country with the USA in Iraq.

We also liked the performance of Alex Jennings as a self serving Prince Charles who is suddenly willing to distance himself from his mother to save his own skin.  However, we think the director and the screenwriter should have given him more credit for standing up to his Royal parents in this case.

There was one moment in this movie that the Queen showed some lucidity.  While driving in her enormous Scottish estate, her car had breaks down in the middle of a very shallow river.  In the vast wilderness of her estate she suddenly notices this magnificent stag a few feet away from her looking at her intently.  Suddenly she drops a few tears and somehow she is at peace with the world.  Then a gun shot is heard in the distance and the stag disappears as quickly as it appeared and the moment is gone.

Helen Mirren is a magnificent actor deserving of the Golden Globe and the Oscar that one hopes she would get.  Many times during the screening, we forgot that she was not actually the Queen herself.  She plays the Queen as a sovereign who really belongs to the 19th Century.  She genuinely feels that the people are her subjects.  She is heartless and calculating.  She loves her dogs and her grand children in that order and then everyone else including her intelligence challenged husband and son are merely tolerated by her.  She is even formal with her mother.  She is obviously ill at ease in presence of others including her private secretary Robin Janvrin.  She is only really happy when she is away from it all in the vast emptiness of her Scottish Palace where the rest of the world does not seem to exist.

During those critical seven days, Tony Blair who was quite new as the Prime Minister superbly managed the crisis.  He stopped it from getting out of hand.  He was so skillful that he became the most admired British Prime Minister of all time.  Michael Sheen gives a believable portrayal of his charm and yet naiveté. 

We think that Stephen Frears has done a wonderful job as a director.  The script by Peter Morgan, which is based on real events, is gripping in an unhurried sort of way.  We do not normally assign half stars to movies.  It was not an easy decision.  We felt that this movie deserver three and a half stars. 
But, we feel generous today and give it starstarstarstarfor excellence.

Please see this movie if you get a chance.  Take your entire family.  It is a drama, it is a comedy and in a way it displays the tragedy of Royal decadence.  The comedy is not actually scripted.  It comes across naturally when one observes the ineptitude of the Royal family and their cohorts as they deal with the death of Princess Diana.  Personally we would prefer the monarchy to a republic in Britain.  If only the Royal Family could cut down on its excesses and got closer to the people!   It is a wonderful movie with a great director, great cinematography and a super cast.

Go See it!

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