How you feel about The Queen will likely depend on how you feel about a whole host of issues: What do you think of the British monarchy? What did you think of Diana Spencer? The Prince of Wales? Do you think movie “biopics” do a good job depicting real people? Are projects like The Queen hopelessly biased?
I have strong opinions about a number of those questions, but I’m willing to concede that – being no English historian, and certainly no royal insider – I could be dead wrong on a number of counts. All I can do is go by what I see. What I see in The Queen is a captivating performance by Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II, a woman charged with upholding tradition in a changing world. When Diana dies in a car accident, Elizabeth is faced with a dilemma: honor traditional protocol, or cave in to the will of the people?
Is Mirren’s portrayal accurate? I have no idea. Is it eminently watchable? Oh, yes. In fact, Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn is the best reason to watch The Queen. Most of the other characters are either unbelievably white (Michael Sheen as a too-good-to-be-true Tony Blair; you can practically see his teeth sparkle), or implausibly black (James Cromwell as a homophobic, misogynistic, bombastic Prince Philip). Director Stephen Frears, who generally handles this material well, indulges in a bit of heavy-handed symbolism involving a hunted animal; who knew that traditional England had so much in common with a doomed stag?
For the record, I personally think that the monarchy is a ridiculously outdated institution. But there are worse things. The world has changed, whether we – and the queen – like it or not. But as Elizabeth puts it to Blair: “That’s the way we do things in this country: quietly, with dignity. That’s what the rest of the world has always admired us for.” If you buy that, is it something you really want to change? Grade: B+
Director: Stephen Frears Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms, Helen McCrory Release: 2006
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