For sixty years The Queen (Helen Mirren) regularly meets each of her twelve Prime Ministers in a weekly audience at Buckingham Palace - a meeting like no other in British public life. It is private, under an unspoken agreement never to repeat what is said. Not even to their spouses. From Winston Churchill (Edward Fox) to David Cameron (Rufus Wright), each Prime Minister uses these private conversations as a sounding board and a confessional - sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive. In turn, the Queen can't help but reveal her own self as she advises, consoles and, on occasion, teases. From young mother to grandmother these private audiences chart the arc of the second Elizabethan Age. Politicians come and go through the revolving door of electoral politics, while she remains constant, waiting to welcome her next Prime Minister. (Captured live in High Definition at London's Gielgud Theatre.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A seductive and delicious set of hypothetical conversations peppered with humour, pathos and satire, Peter Morganís The Audience is audacious only in that it dares to imagine the most private conversations between Britainís most public figures. A dozen of them. While Morgan does not know what was really said over the years, he uses actual historical milestones on which to hang his hypotheticals.
So for example the fiery exchange between her and Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne) is triggered by a Sunday Times article in which the Queen is said to have been dismayed by Thatcherís lack of empathy for the workers Ė and their disagreement over handling South Africa. Morgan imagines well and what we see and hear is pretty authentic, even if it isnít accurate. This goes for all the conversations, and while the Prime Ministers are treated with reference to their public personas, the Queen is shown to be a much more rounded character than her public persona.
We get the sense that Morgan has a big soft spot for the Queen, and while he allows touches of satire to creep into the characterisation of her, too, it is not at all meanspirited.
The construct of the play is both expansive and economical: it is the former because it spans 60 years and moves from the audience room in Buckingham Palace to her Scottish castle and back again. It is the latter because it is tightly written. Apart from the central conversations, Morgan also imagines the Queen as a 15 year old girl, who appears as a sort of companion from time to time to reflect on people and events in her youth. Itís not at all distracting, in fact it adds a texture to the portrait of a woman who sees herself in very simple terms: a postage stamp with a pulse, she quips.
Gently mocking one minute, heartfelt the next, The Audience is a great opportunity to participate cinematically in that which Britain has always done very well: great theatre.
Review by Louise Keller:
Peter Morgan has constructed his play brilliantly, revealing a tantalising cocktail of history and personal insights as the Queen gives an audience to the 12 British Prime Ministers who have held power over her 60 year reign. Directed by Billy Elliotís Stephen Daldry, itís a sympathetic portrayal that, above all, offers a poignant portrait of the monarch whose mantra is to serve and who considers herself to be Ďa postage stamp with a pulseí.
Of course it is unimaginable to think of anyone except Helen Mirren in the leading role, having won the Oscar and BAFTA for her performance in Morganís 2006 film The Queení. Her nuanced delivery, uncanny physical semblance and superb ability to bring the character to life in a compassionate, human way, makes our experience unforgettable.
The structure is deceptively simple as exchanges between the Prime Ministers and the Queen take place in non-linear fashion. Time is elastic as the major issues of the day are enveloped in personal revelations. Morganís screenplay comprises of imagined moments and conversations that are grounded in a reality of truth. The facts and context is truthful, whereas the actual words and topics are not necessarily accurate.
Like magic, there are quick transformations in which a different wig and outfit pinpoint the era, bring us the Queen at different ages and transport us to the relevant time and government. The exchanges between head of the country and head of the government range from formal and terse to jovial and jocular. Memorable is the terse meeting with Margaret Thatcher (Haydn Gwynne), while the most moving are the sequences between the Queen and Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe), whose photographic memory delivers humour during their Balmoral meeting. We fleetingly see a couple of corgis and become eavesdroppers when there are provoking references to Diana, Charles, the Duke of Edinburgh and the imminently expected royal baby of 2013.
There are references to the key political issues and crises of the day but it is the Queenís inner self, mirrored by a young actress (one of three playing the role) who portrays the young Elisabeth that offers the greatest emotional rewards. She may be the richest and most powerful woman in the world, but it is the simplicity of thought and down to earth pragmatism that strikes a chord. Of course, nothing can match the theatre experience, but as a film, broadcast from Londonís Gielgud Theatre as part of National Theatre Life, the work is remarkably effective and thoroughly enjoyable.
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AUDIENCE, THE (tba)
CAST: Helen Mirren, Bebe Cave, Maya Gerber, Nell Williams, Michael Elwyn, Haydn Gwynne, Richard McCabe, Nathaniel Parker, Paul Ritter, Rufus Wright, Edward Fox, David Peart, Geoffrey Beevers, Charlotte Moore
PRODUCER: Stage production: Matthew Byam Shaw, Robert Fox, Andy Harries
DIRECTOR: Stage production: Stephen Daltry
SCRIPT: Peter Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Not credited
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 165 minutes (incl. interval)
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 5, 2013