November 15, 2006
A Royal Chiller
When you tell my crowd there's a new movie called The Queen, we think it could be about anyone from Liberace to James McGreevey. But such is not the case. It's about the Queen — as in of England, Elizabeth II.
It's a must-see if only to catch Helen Mirren's metamorphosotic performance in the title role. It's actually kind of eerie, as if you're watching a film, which cast Her Royalness as the lead. I think the Oscars will tap Ms. Mirren for this work, as did the Emmys last year. (She won for playing the other Elizabeth — namely the First.)
The film centers on the death of the divine Diana, erstwhile Princess of Wales, and the days after that tragic event. No one plays her, you'll note. She's very much there, but through newsreels, a television interview and paparazzi snaps. How I miss her! And the fact that no actress takes on her character alludes to a kind of deference to her own natural majesty.
The two principals in this story are Big Liz and the new [Labor] Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's the hero of the piece and she, well, is pointedly not. I won't use the term "villain," but she doesn't garner a lot of sympathy in this fly-on-the-wall portrayal. I guess I was expecting to find out there's a real person beneath the crown. That there's a warm and fuzzy Elizabeth who's learned from her long life of Majesty that it's good to be 'off duty' with the family, that it's okay to be tender and human and even funny. Alas, from what we see here, behind that cold exterior there's a pretty cold interior.
Tony Blair 'gets' the gravity of Diana's death immediately, where as the Royal Family believes she's no longer 'one of them' and deserves whatever plans for burial her own family can muster. Only Charles, who still comes across as quite a clod in this film, realizes that his ex was not only the mother of a future king, but gained popularity among the British people the Royals can only dream of.
He tries, in vain, to convince his stoic mother of the urgent need to take part in this national trauma but he's cut short in the process. You get the distinct impression there's bad blood between mother & son — or is it all about 'monarch & heir' with those two? It's apparent he's the last person she turns to for any kind of communication.
In an amazing scene where she's behind the wheel of an old Range Rover and he's riding shotgun, Charles is timidly pitching the case for some royal involvement in the mourning process. At one point he urges her to remember what a good mother Diana was. The Queen takes such umbrage to this remark that she pulls over, takes the dogs and walks home — leaving Charles to proceed in the abandoned vehicle.
Apparently, she took his remarks as a dig on her less-than-admirable maternal skills. I guess we can assume that back in the day, Her Majesty didn't care to know about Doctor Spock, either!
This is pretty juicy stuff about a family the world can only ponder, and never get to know. But is it true? What's new in all of this privacy of the privileged routine is the fact that now the servants will rat you out. Before Diana, butlers weren't writing tell-all books and scullery maids weren't talking to the tabloids. They do now, and even people very high in the Prime Minister's staff deeply oppose the archaic institution of Monarchy in modern day England. That's made perfectly clear in this movie.
To cut to the chase, Tony Blair finally convinces a belligerent Queen to do what the people need her to do, in spite of her firm belief that a stiff upper lip is all the people want from her. He saves her bacon, but — surprise — she shows him no gratitude. The worst of the lot is Prince Phillip: they should hold a hunt and shoot him.