a review by Tom Condon, OP
Film Synopis: A revealing, witty portrait
of the British royal family in crisis immediately following the
death of Princess Diana. The setting for this fictional account
of real events is no less than the private chambers of the Royal
Family and the British government in the wake of the sudden death
of Princess Diana in August of 1997.
of us remember well the amazing week in 1997 after the
tragic death of Princess Diana. Even in the U.S., we were riveted
to the television screen by the coverage of the death and funeral
of the beautiful young princess. The distance of the royal family
stood in stark contrast to the outpouring of sentiment from the
common people of Britain and throughout the world. The Queen takes
us behind the scenes of that week, telling the story from the
perspective of Queen Elizabeth.
What surprised me about this fascinating film is
that I expected the Queen to be seen as the villain. On the contrary,
I left the theater feeling that I understood her, even to the
point of experiencing sympathy for Elizabeth. Elizabeth seemed
surprised to find herself suddenly thrust into the center of a
huge controversy, and ill-prepared to deal with it. Prince Philip,
the Queen Mother, and all her staff advised Elizabeth to keep
a distance and not interfere with the preparations of Diana’s
family. Elizabeth protects Diana’s sons from the public
eye, sending them hunting at Balmoral, the royal estate in Scotland.
Charles comes across as an odd figure, still seeming to be in
love with Diana. Charles disagrees with his Mother’s actions,
but does not want to criticize her.
It is the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair,
who eventually persuades Elizabeth to return to London, lower
the flags to half-staff, and make a televised public statement.
Much of the film is about the back-and-forth between the young,
charismatic Blair, and the iconic Queen, desperately clinging
The Queen really is about the dawning of a new
era, when the established royal customs finally yield to the new
era of media and public expressions of emotion. In the extraordinary
final dialogue between Elizabeth and Blair, she admits that she
had been trained to be restrained in her public display, not to
wear her emotions on her sleeve. She assumed that was what her
people wanted. In a beautifully touching moment, the Queen admits
that she had never been hated before by her people. Through the
whole experience, and especially through her relationship with
Tony Blair, the Queen actually seems more human at the end of
the film. She has adapted to her time, and listened to the counsel
of others to go against tradition and do what she needed to do
for the good of the people. In this manner, The Queen is a lesson
in leadership, learning to change and adapt when necessary.
As Queen Elizabeth, Helen Mirren gives a stunning
performance. From the wonderful opening sequence, in which she
sits for a portrait, until her final walk in the palace garden
with Tony Blair, Mirren is utterly convincing in her speech, her
expressions, her bearing, even down to the Queen’s walk.
She’s had a lot of experience playing royalty, most recently
in her award winning performance as Elizabeth I on HBO. The rest
of the cast is equally fine, especially Michael Sheen as Blair,
James Cromwell as Prince Philip, and Sylvia Syms as the Queen
Mother. Only Alex Jennings as Prince Charles strikes an odd note,
sometimes siding with his family, other times with Blair. Perhaps
that is an accurate portrayal of Charles during this time of crisis.
Much credit should also go to director Stephen
Frears (who also directed the great Dangerous Liaisons) and screenwriter
Peter Morgan for their fine work.
The tension between tradition and the contemporary
world so well examined in The Queen serves as a good reflection
for those in church (and secular) leadership today who struggle
with the tensions between tradition and contemporary culture.
As with Elizabeth, I hope that we may endure the conflicts that
will inevitably arise in any form of leadership, that we will
listen to good counsel, and reveal our humanity in the midst of
Tom Condon, OP
|Genres: Art/Foreign and Drama
Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Release Date: September 30th, 2006 (NY)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.