Well it’s a bank holiday this weekend over here in Blighty, because our reigning monarch has succeeded in not dying for 60 years on the throne, and doesn’t deem any of her offspring worthy enough to take her crown whilst she has enough life in her hands to grip onto it, so what better way of celebrating than by watching The Queen?
Diana, Princess of Wales, divorced wife of the Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Charles and mother of her grandchildren Princes William and Harry, is killed in a car accident in August, 1997, causing uproar throughout the UK, not least for the royal family and the recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). In the aftermath, the royal family take a period of mourning in their Scottish residence, whilst Blair remains in London to almost take advantage of the situation.
First off, the performances in this film are mostly excellent. There was never any doubt that Helen Mirren would make a perfect choice as QE2 (the monarch, not the boat), and she gives a repressed, buttoned down portrayal of a woman few know personally. Sheen, too, is at his best when playing a real person (see also The Damned United, Frost Vs. Nixon, half of his CV) and James Cromwell is good as the Queen’s cantankerous husband Prince Philip. It is only really Alex Jennings as Charles who goes too far. The rest of the cast limit how much of an impersonation they are making of their subjects, whereas Jennings tries too hard to mimic Charles’ more exaggerated mannerisms and persona already expanded upon in the media, as though he’s performing a sketch show impression rather than showing just enough for us to know who he is.
This is the kind of film that lives and dies by it’s script. The West Wing covered a similar theme on a weekly basis, and succeeded not just because of the stellar cast and direction, but mainly due to Aaron Sorkin’s masterful way with words. Here we have a good cast and a slightly above average director in Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons), but the script is written by Peter Morgan, whose CV is littered with other mediocre biographies lifted only by acting talents (The Last King of Scotland). Had this film had a punchier script, with some rat-a-tat dialogue and an entertaining turn of phrase, it’d be a much better piece. As it is, the story isn’t terrible, but it is largely forgettable.
Being English, you’d think I’d be well versed in the goings on around such a recent major occurrence, even if I was only 10 at the time, but alas I’ve never known an awful lot about the events both before and after Diana’s death. Much that occurs in the film came as a surprise to me. I’d obviously heard of Diana, dubbed the People’s Princess by Blair, but knew very little of her exploits or the reasonings behind her tabloid headlines. I’ve never paid much attention to the royal family, to be honest. It’s not that I’m anti-monarchy, it’s just that I really don’t care about them. The most I’ve seen of the jubilee celebrations was some highlights I caught whilst channel surfing this evening, and were we not having family over to visit I’m sure I’d have been writing posts or watching something off the List, so would have missed it completely. This film has done little to nothing to increase my interest in the royals, though it has provided an insight behind the closed doors of their world.
The movie seems to take a fairly pro-Blair stance, as he seems to be the most considerate character in the film, especially when compared to his far more callous spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley). The relationship between the Queen and Blair is nicely played out – she kicks off his first day in power by reminding him that he is her 10th Prime Minister, with the first one being Winston Churchill, so he has a fair amount to live up to. There are some nice comedic touches – in her death, Diana is still proving an annoyance to the royals, including the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms, Helena Bonham Carter’s character in The King’s Speech), whose funeral arrangements Diana has pilfered. It’s very bizarre to see the Queen calling someone Mummy, and even more so to see this usually confident figure spending much of the film deliberating and worrying, as she finds herself in the middle of a major royal event with complete and utter media coverage.
Not much of the film has stayed with me after watching, other than Mirren performance, which is especially spot on during the Queen’s address. I’ve had a little royal history filled in for me, but it was never anything I really cared about anyway.
Choose life 6/10