Friday, October 13, 2006


Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

By Edward Copeland
When newly elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to meet Queen Elizabeth for the first time, he's informed by one of the royal servants about how to behave in her majesty's "presence." The presence that dominates Stephen Frears' The Queen belongs to Helen Mirren who, in a career already filled with great performances, may have topped them all as England's current monarch dealing with the fallout of Princess Diana's death. Her upbringing taught her to be reserved and her belief that Di's funeral and mourning should be a private matter and not "a fairground attraction" provides for a sharp, witty and surprisingly touching look at the friction between centuries of tradition and the forward march of time and change.

Michael Sheen plays Blair and he bears a startling resemblance to the real prime minister who, as the first British prime minister from the Labor Party in Britain in 18 years, finds one of his first tasks unexpectedly being to coax the queen into the modern age and get her to recognize how Diana's death affected her subjects, who only knew the public Diana and not the real woman whom the royals had more than mixed feelings about. (An offscreen Princess Margaret remarks that Diana is proving more annoying in death than she did in life).

As the days drag on after Di's death and the royals stay out of the public eye on their Scottish estate in Balmoral, Blair asks if anyone can "save these people from themselves." It's a difficult task as his wife Cherie (a great turn by Helen McCrory) notes that the monarchy is populated by emotionally retarded freeloaders and perhaps it's time to let the institution fade away.

Peter Morgan's excellent screenplay finds many more layers than you'd expect to find. The film begins as if it's going to be a sharp satirical poke in the eye of the monarchy, but as it moves on, it manages to plumb unexpected depths, digging beneath both Elizabeth's stoic reserve and chronicling Blair's evolution of thought toward the royals from one of exasperation to one of surprising sympathy and understanding for the queen's inability to emote to the satisfaction of a grieving public.

While Sheen and Mirren certainly stand out among the solid cast, fine performances also come from James Cromwell as the stiff Prince Philip, unable to understand all the fuss, the aforementioned McCrory and a hysterical Sylvia Syms as the doddering Queen Mum, who can't believe it when they decide to use the plans she's made for her own funeral as the template for Diana's.

The Queen, for me at least, also turns out to be Frears' best movie ever. While I've liked much of his work (The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons), his movies always seemed to be lacking something for me, usually an emotional component, but The Queen delivers it in droves. When Di died, the media overkill eventually became like nails on a chalkboard to me so I was surprised by how much the film managed to move me with its recounting of Di's death. Frears manages to effortlessly slide the film between its cynical and sentimental sides and directs with a scope and fluidity I've not seen from him before.

Still, The Queen belongs to Mirren, who won an Emmy earlier this year for playing the first Queen Elizabeth and should prove to be a strong contender to take the Oscar for playing the second. Mirren doesn't try to do a straight impression of a well-known figure like Elizabeth II, but she does resemble her.

Even when the film appears to be mocking the foibles of the royal family, Mirren never does. The strength of her performance equals the stoicism of the royals themselves and while there may come a day when the monarchy fades away, this performance should prove to be one for the ages.

Labels: ,

I can't wait to see this - it won't make its way here until mid-November. After her two well-publicized losses to Hilary Swank, I think it would be kind of funny if Annette Bening lost both an Oscar and an Emmy to the two Queen Elizabeths of Helen Mirren within the space of a year. It's possible that someone will come along and trump them both (Kate Winslet is an attractive dark horse at this point), but still, there would be nice sort of symmetry to it.
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.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader