Archive Review: The Queen (2006)


Queens are not just characters is period romances. Or fantasy stories. “The Queen” is a fascinating look at a monarch of not only historical fact, but also of a modern world. Played with grace and poise by the great Helen Mirren, Queen Elizabeth II becomes a specimen for our the moviegoer’s microscope rather than remaining that elusive royal figure locked up in Buckingham Palace.

In many ways, this is what the film is about: a woman grounded in one of the deepest traditions there is in terms of the British monarchy, who realizes that she too must change, must make herself known again to her people and become a more meaningful part of their lives.

The film begins with Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) being elected to office, but focuses on the week that shook the world when Princess Diana died tragically in a car accident in France. Diana was on poor terms with the former Princess of Wales, but her death struck a chord with her entire country and the world. The people and press demanded something from The Queen, who wanted to keep it quiet. It was a PR strategy that nearly threatened the monarchy’s existence.

The crux of Mirren’s performance is not her ability to create an incredibly royal aura about herself, which she does with ease. Rather, it’s her ability to externalize The Queen’s internal struggle of coming to terms with the need to change without being emotional or even slightly melodramatic. She must deal with this PR nightmare as well as the emotional trauma Di’s death has caused her grandchildren while staying composed as a queen of 50 years would. She simply nails it. Despite staying collected, no one can come close to classifying Mirren’s performance as stoic.

Peter Morgan (“The Last King of Scotland”) has chosen a perfect one-week period in his subject’s life to forge this biopic. Diana’s death is a moment everyone in the audience old enough to remember it will never forget. Even if we know nothing about Queen Elizabeth II, there’s our perfect window into her life and the state of affairs of Britain. His script makes up what it lacks in external up-and-down conflict with conflict based on the stubbornness and internal battles of his characters. It’s not only The Queen who must change, but Prince Philip (James Cromwell), Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and the Queen Mother. The conflict is a raw tension between the sweeping tidal wave of current events/the press and the Royal Family’s indecision and resistance. Mediating is Sheen as a youthful and idealistic Tony Blair.

“The Queen” is a thought-provoking film about great change and how our best leaders are the ones that learn to embrace it, that ride ahead of its waves, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

4/5 Stars

The Queen (2006)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Peter Morgan
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell


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