When news of Princess Diana's death in a Paris car accident breaks on a shocked British public, HRH Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) retreats behind the walls of Balmoral Castle with Prince Phillip (James Cromwell) and her family, unable to comprehend the depth and extent of the public's response to the tragedy. For Labour's newly elected PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the people's need for reassurance and support from their leaders is palpable - and seized upon by the media. As the unprecedented outpouring of emotion grows ever stronger, Blair must find a way to reconnect the Queen with the British public and subtly cajole her to come out from her castles.
Review by Louise Keller:
A fascinating fly on the wall glimpse of royal life behind the protocol, The Queen is drama at its most compelling. Some may find the notion of peeking into the Queen's bedroom and intimate exchanges between her husband, mother, son and prime minister shocking. Others will be mesmerised by the very thought of an intrusion into the cultured formality of royal etiquette. Irrespective of your royalist or political leanings, one thing is sure; there are many surprises and delights in Stephen Frears' insightful, affecting and wonderfully entertaining film. It's exquisitely detailed and emotionally ripe, and in the title role, Helen Mirren is fabulous. Not only does she look like the queen, but Mirren captures the royal chill, the disapproving gaze and vulnerability when you least expect it.
If you were a bridge player, you would call 7NT when describing the brilliant casting that captures the essence of the players without impersonations or caricatures. Michael Sheen as the passionate young Tony Blair, Helen McCrory's outspoken Cherie and James Cromwell, who is marvellous as the testy Duke of Edinburgh (who calls the Queen 'cabbage'). Alex Jennings may not look like Prince Charles, but there's no mistaking the mannerisms and wry grimace.
Set during the claustrophobic week after Diana's death, when denial is the main course dished up at the royal Balmoral Estate, we are taken into a world glued together by tradition and duty. There's a sharp contrast between the lace trimmed pillow slips in the queen's bedroom and newly appointed PM Tony Blair's congenial, bustling household at Number 10, accentuated by contrasting use of 35mm and handheld super 16mm. When Cherie Blair accompanies her husband up the staircase at Buckingham Palace for his first audience with the queen ('It's M'am as in ham, not M'arm as in farm'), she represents all of us, wrinkling her nose and making fun of the protocol.
There were three of them in the relationship - the queen, the prime minister and the media, and Diana's presence is felt throughout the film. There are news flashes and tv footage reminding us of her tragic journey from wide eyed innocent to media hungry celebrity. Beyond the obvious, there is a hidden depth, showing the royals at their most vulnerable. There are many telling moments and ones scorching with red hot controversy.
Big Brother goes to the Palace and Number 10. Intrigued? Curiosity may have killed the cat, but never the royal corgi.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"The act of impertinence is in the making of the film," says director Stephen Frears; of course it's a most delicious prospect, taking a living, reigning monarch's fairly recent actions as subject matter. Frears and writer Peter Morgan were also impertinent enough to imagine conversations and emotions behind the private walls of Balmoral, where the Queen's family were spending their summer holidays when Diana was killed. The trick here was to find a credible and dramatically authentic balance between what is known and what is guesswork about the week that the Queen kept her emotions to herself - unwisely, as it turned out - while the nation grieved loud and long.
After the carefully honed screenplay, the performances are the most crucial aspect for a film of such high profile people and events, and nobody disappoints. Helen Mirren rightly won the Best Actress Award at Venice and will probably go on to Oscar acclaim for a performance of astonishing skill. She captures all the nuances we see and even the ones we sense, about HRH QEII. The portrait is neither merciless nor flattering; it's judiciously well observed.
Michael Sheen is not only convincing as Tony Blair (with a passable physical echo of the real PM), he conveys the motivations and complexities that engulfed the new Prime Minister, just months into office.
Everyone is excellent, but these are the two pivotal roles, as the old and the new of Britain's hierarch face each other across a yawning gap of tradition, institutional barriers, personal limitations and the trauma of Diana's death, which was even more irritating to many in the Palace than her life, a flip remark attributed to Princess Margaret in the film. Yes, there is humour in the film, not comedy, but the wry and ironic kind of humour that thrives on deep insight.
To their credit, the filmmakers have pitched the film exactly where it belongs; we are often titillated, amused and entertained, but never at the expense of sincerity, and we are left with a deeper understanding of what happened and why, in the sensational week at the end of the summer of 1997. The Queen is a superbly crafted and sensitive work that illuminates recent history through the intimacies of its characters; unquestionably one of the best, most satisfying films of 2006.
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QUEEN, THE (M)
CAST: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms, Roger Allem, Alex Jennings, Tim McMullan, Paul Barrett, Helen McCrory
PRODUCER: Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
SCRIPT: Peter Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Affonso Beato
EDITOR: Lucia Zucchetti
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alan MacDonald
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2006