The Queen (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Sims
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Review published October 7, 2006
The death of the very popular Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 brought about a massive public outpouring of grief, the likes of which have seldom been seen in the modern era. Literally millions of mourners descended on London to pay their last respects, but curiously not among them were the Royal family, who adhered strictly to proper protocol, dealing with the aftermath in private, away from the prying public eye. The public lack of grief on the part of the Royals brought about a great backlash against them, and fearing additional public resentment, Queen Elizabeth II, at the behest of current Prime Minister Tony Blair, agreed to some compromises in order to preserve the institution of the Royal Family, including a public television address and walking among the people, acts which were exceedingly rare for the Queen of England.
The Queen is a behind-the-scenes supposition of the events that occurred between the Queen (Mirren, The Clearing) and Tony Blair (Sheen, Laws of Attraction) regarding the reaction to the rabidly-publicized event. While only the participants may ever truly know what was said and done behind some very private closed doors, director Stephen Frears (Mrs. Henderson Presents, High Fidelity), working from the script by historical screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland, Henry VIII), offers a very compelling and believable hypothesis of just what might have actually happened. Frears and Morgan are no strangers to collaborating on works surrounding the British government, having worked together previously on the made-for-BBC docudrama miniseries, The Deal, based on the rise of Tony Blair into a leadership position. Trivia: Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair in both productions, while Helen Mirren has the honor of playing both Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II in back-to-back films.
Although the conversations are obviously fictionalized, the performances and reactions of the main players to the real-life events feel right. Helen Mirren is very convincing as the Queen, getting lost in the character in a performance so nuanced, we actually do feel as though we come to understand her more as she handles whatever situation comes about. It is a performance that will no doubt earn her more than a few nominations in prominent awards competitions. It's difficult to imagine a better Tony Blair than Sheen, who actually manages to give the man a vulnerability and humor that makes him more human, as he matures from uncertain political player to assured, savvy tactician in the matter of one short week. As no one is privy to such conversations, that the interaction between the two world figures is riveting is testament as to how realistic the dialogue and mannerisms are portrayed.
While the performances and solid production values merit attention as far as major motion pictures go, The Queen does seem very much like a television docudrama that somehow got the push to be released into theaters. It is certainly interesting and provocative, but somewhat slight when compared to other films to cover important popular figures, mostly treated as a sort of "coming of age" film for the elderly Queen of England and the attitude of the Royal Family towards the public. I do think that those who regularly follow the events of the Royals will be far more engaged with the fly-on-the-wall perspective that the film provides, and consequently, will enjoy this more than most other viewers just interested in a well-developed film. Slight though it may be, Mirren's humanizing performance provides enough weight necessary to keep this from being just another puff piece surrounding tabloid-worthy events.
©2006 Vince Leo