Friday, May 25, 2007

Movie Must-See: The Queen

God Save this woman.

Check this film out, by all means: "The Queen," director Steven Frears' ("Dangerous Liasons") docudrama of the tension that developed between new British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Royal Family following the death of Princess Diana in 1987.

Blair had just been elected PM, promising a "modernization" of England; to those in the Royal Family, this was seen as another attempt to marginalize the monarchy. Diana's death in a Paris traffic accident becomes the jumping off point to examine the "new England" of Blair's generation with the old, stiff-upper-lip era embodied by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip and the Queen Mother.

The Royals, who never much cared for Diana (Princess Margaret reportedly said she was "more irritating dead than alive"), aren't shedding too many tears over her death; the Queen balks at Prince Charles' request to use one of the Royals' jets to fly to Paris in the immediate confusing moments following the accident, suggesting Charles book a commercial flight instead to save face with the public, critical of the huge sums of money to support the Monarchy. Days pass following Diana's death, and the public outpouring of grief is unprecedented; flowers from well-wishers are making it difficult for the honor guard to make their ritualistic change outside Buckingham Palace. Blair, attuned to modern British society, knows Diana's death to be a huge deal, a fact lost on the Royal Family. Strangely, no public statement or show of sympathy is forthcoming from Royal Family. They're holed up in their Scottish castle at Balmoral, knitting, watching the tele, walking their dogs and hunting, not wanting their vacation interrupted by what they feel is a private affiar--and no longer a matter to concern the Monarchy, anyway, since Diana is no longer an "HRH." "I think the less attention we draw to it, the better," she sniffs.

While committed to modernizing England, Blair sees the value of retaining the Monarchy for the psyche of the British; he sees the aloofness of the Royals regarding Diana's death as particularly exasperating, further proof that they are out of touch with modern England. Prince Phillip huffs that a planned public funeral for Diana will feature--rather than Lords and Members of Parliment--movie actors, clothing designers and homosexual singers, for God's sake! The Queen repeatedly rebuffs Blair's suggestions to make a public appearance and statement about Diana's death, finally capitulating when she realizes that saying nothing may do lasting damage to a Monarchy already seen by many as an anachronism. She comes to this decision, it seems, after encountering a stately big buck deer while alone in the Balmoral wilderness. The animal becomes a metaphor for the monarchy and its handling of Diana's death when it appears in a later scene.

The screenplay by Peter Morgan ("Last King of Scotland")is first rate, as are the actors, including James Cromwell as a prickly Prince Phillip and Michael Sheen as Blair, who's made a career in the U.K. with his uncanny resemblance of the Labor Party PM. Helen Mirren won the Best Actress Oscar for her understated portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, bringing life and humor to a character known mostly by her untouchable public persona.

It's out on DVD as we speak.

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