The death of Princess Diana is one of the defining moments of the 1990’s. One of those moments where everyone remembers where they were when they first heard about it. It was a tragic loss. Being chased down so dangerously by paparazzi is no way to go. “The Queen”, the new movie directed by Stephen Frears is about the days that followed in that awful event. Following Diana’s death, the royal family reacted with nothing but silence. Since Diana was no longer officially a royal, they chose to react with no reaction at all.
Helen Mirren plays Elizabeth II, in the best performance that I have seen her give, and certainly one of the best performances this year. There is no other way to say it other than she simply is Elizabeth II.
Michael Sheen plays the newly elected Prime Minster, Tony Blair. After Diana’s death, the public goes in to a state of mourning over the loss. Eventually that turns to outrage towards the Monarchy. Eventually the Press goes on the attack, with only Tony Blair defending the royal family.
The movie basically consists of quiet scenes where the family go about their day to day lives, struggling to understand why the public want a reaction so badly. They won’t even acknowledge Diana’s passing by flying the flag at Buckingham Palace at half mass. They stand firm beside their protocol. Internally we see a troubled Charles, teetering on the line between his loyalty to his family and looking good in the public eye. He secretly sides with Blair, but won’t go public without more backing. Meanwhile Elizabeth has her day to day dealings with Blair, who constantly tries to bring them out of their traditions.
What I found really fascinating about this movie is how real everything seemed. Its almost like we were looking into the real lives of the royal family. Director Stephen Frears directs from a screenplay that is surprisingly articulate and pays attention to detail. He also knows how to get the best out of his actors. Here there is a showcase of amazing performances from Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen, but also don’t lose sight of James Cromwell as Prince Philip and Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mum. They have a few throwaway scenes that they steal.
Over the years I have never really noticed how much of a fan of Stephen Frears I have become. I’ve only seen a handful of his movies, including “High Fidelity”, which made my top ten list. Now he has made another movie that I will recognize at the end of the year. Other movies I’ve enjoyed include “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and “Dirty Pretty Things”. The connection being the attention to detail and character, which is lost among most other movies.