Sunday, November 05, 2006

God Save the Queen from Herself

One of this year's most talked about films, and sure Oscar nominee (and winner if the Academy decides it didn't "peak early", the excuse given for Brokeback Mountain's failure to garner an Oscar)is Stephen Frears' "The Queen," a subtle, often funny, yet ultimately tragic study of royal manners and duty above self.

The film takes place in the Summer of 1997, beginning the day Tony Blair and the Labour Party wins the national elections in Great Britain and culminating in the days surrounding the death of Princess Diana. Combining vintage photos and films (Diana is not portrayed but is always seen in media photos, aptly illustrating her role as a media darling) and blending fact and fiction, "The Queen" gives a wonderful, wickedly voyeuristic view into the private world of the Windsors.

The purely fictional parts are so natural and well crafted you just want them to be true. We want to believe that Prince Philip (James Cromwell) looked at news footage Diana at her wedding to Prince Charles and grumbled, "She was a nice girl. Then..." Or that Cherie Blair (Helen Mc Crory) called the Windsors "emotionally retarded nutters" and finally Blair himself stating "Will someone please save these people from themselves?" Blair will soon realize that the someone will have to be him.

The crown jewel in this film is the incredible performance by Helen Mirren as HRM Queen Elizabeth II. She looks remarkably like The Queen, and has captured her manners and presence perfectly. Cold, precise, and regal; yet beneath we see the young princess who, like her father, really did not want the job she inherited.

Ultimately, it is a sympathetic portrait. If you look and listen closely, the Queen is as much a trapped victim of the Royal tradition, protocol and duty as Diana was.

To Queen Elizabeth, Diana was a shameless, annoying ex-daughter-in-law and thus no longer a member of the royal family. Diana is not entitled to a state funeral, any royal tributes and thus should have a quiet, private funeral with dignity and a stiff upper lip. What gives the film its dramatic impact is how Elizabeth II comes to understand this massive error in judgment in the face of mounting indignation of the people and how it shakes her to her very core. "I've never been hated like that before," she says after reading the news and hearing the people speak of the shame they have in their monarch. It shocks her into making some precedent breaking decisions, pushed on by Blair. I, for one, remember watching the funeral when the casket came by the gate at Buckingham Palace and The Queen bowed to Diana. I am sure I was not the only one who gasped at that tradition breaking moment.

Tied in a nice neat package and running for a reasonable 1 1/2 hours, the film rarely misses. The background characters such as Alex Jennings as sly but well-meaning Prince Charles, and the half dead Queen Mum (Sylvia Syms)add a depth and never get in the way.

I do predict an Oscar for this film, at least for Mirren. Definitely worth checking out.

1 comment:

redtown said...

The one character not developed in the film was Diana herself.  The "people's princess" remains the icon of superficial popular culture.  But the Royal family knew a very different Diana -- the one behind the facades of glamour and pseudo-compassion.

Both Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder caused by their mother's abandoning them as young children.  A google search reveals that Diana is considered a case study in BPD by mental health professionals.

For Charles Spencer, BPD meant insatiable sexual promiscuity (his wife was divorcing him at the time of Diana's death). For Diana, BPD meant intense insecurity and insatiable need for attention and affection which even the best husband could never fulfill. 

Clinically, it's clear that the Royal family did not cause her "problems". Rather, she brought her multiple issues into the marriage, and the Royal family was hapless to deal with them.

Her illness, untreated, sowed the seeds of her fast and unstable lifestyle, and sadly, her tragic fate.