Posts Tagged ‘THE QUEEN’


helenmirreninthequeen0011Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant presence in most of our lives for sixty years, her stern, but comforting face staring up at us from our money and official portraits in government buildings. She talks to us at Christmas and even the Sex Pistols wrote a song about her. But even though she’s been more documented than Paris Hilton in the press, I still never really felt a connection to her. Perhaps it is her regal remoteness, or that she doesn’t show up at award shows or go to nightclubs, that has made her something of an enigma in our celebrity obsessed culture.

A new Stephen Frears movie, The Queen, focuses on a week in September 1997, the time between Princess Diana’s death in Paris and her funeral in London. The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair sees his popularity skyrocket after he coins the term, The People’s Princess, in a speech shortly after Diana’s death, while support for Buckingham Palace falls to an all time low when it appears that the Queen doesn’t share the country’s grief.

What emerges is a complex portrait of a woman caught in the shifting tides of change. As portrayed by Helen Mirren, QEII comes across as a woman with a deep sense of duty, of right and wrong and dignity, but out of touch with her subjects. Her reaction to Diana’s death is to grieve quietly, protect the young princes, Harry and William, and hold a discrete and dignified memorial. That her wishes run counter to the public and Prime Minister’s ideas of a proper memorial shows how out of touch she is.

Using news footage director Stephen Frears skillfully demonstrates the fissure between the Queen and her subjects. Just hours after Diana’s death is announced he shows us shots of the first bouquets of flowers left in tribute at the gate of Buckingham Palace. He comes back to this image several more times, and by the time we go back for the last time there is what seems to be acres of flowers, a tangible symbol of England’s grief and the Queen’s mishandling of the circumstances.

Privately we see the Queen’s confusion and sadness as she realizes the public is no longer on her side. It isn’t until Blair persists that she bends and makes a public statement and allows a public funeral. Despite his frustration with the Queen’s decisions Blair comes to respect the woman who has given her life in service to her people.

Supporting actors turn in stellar performances. Alex Jennings as Prince Charles shows a rarely seen vulnerable side of the Prince, while James Cromwell’s stuffy Prince Phillip is played for comic relief. At the heart of the film, however, is Mirren’s performance.

Like many of the great on-screen portrayals of real people in recent years—Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote—Helen Mirren takes a subject who would have been easy to mimic and given her a rich inner life. Just as Hoffman dug deeper to get beyond Capote’s lisp and affected speech and show us a real person, Mirren breaks through the inscrutable royal façade to present a fully rounded character. Despite the famous line, “she ain’t no human being,” so memorably snarled by Johnny Rotten on God Save the Queen, Mirren’s QEII is very much flesh and blood. The Queen does something that no other movie or television show has been able to do—it humanizes Queen Elizabeth.