Imagine that several centuries ago, a member of a country's royal family, known across the land, dies. Without the internet, television, telephones, or public transportation, how, and how soon, would the world proceed to mourn? Today, in a world where information travels in seconds, and when celebrities are modern-age mythological gods, is it possible for the people of the world to know one of these public figures better than their own family members know them? These questions are raised by THE QUEEN, featuring Helen Mirren in an Oscar-worthy performance as Elizabeth II, mother-in-law to Princess Diana. The princess' 1997 death brought an entire country to tears (my highschool self was all but obvlious to its impact) and came at a turning point in British government. The new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) wants to modernize a government under the royal traditions still in place and protected closely by Elizabeth.

In great movie conflicts, both opposing forces are both right and wrong. Here, as Blair and Elizabeth are forced into hasty negotiations in response to Diana's death, they might as well be talking through a tin cans and string stretched between centuries. Thousands of hopeless citizens pile flowers at Buckingham Palace, demanding that the royal family acknowledge Diana, yet Elizabeth remains resolved to keep Diana's funeral a private, family affair. In one scene, Mirren's Queen waits in a creek between two nearby estates, her car stuck in the water. She is alone in nature, with an almost childlike unawareness of the modern world rushing by elsewhere. In her only visible moment of dispair, she spots a roaming stag whose hunter can be heard nearby. Kindly shooing him away, she is more in touch with this ignorant creature's mortality than she ever was to Diana.

THE QUEEN needs a more overt, slam-dunk ending; Elizabeth's realizations are ambiguous at best. But all the while my mind was flooded with insight and fascination for this crux in time-- a creek-- where turn-of-the-millenia progress clashed and compromised with tradition. Neither Blair, nor Elizabeth, nor the princess's people, were in the right or in the wrong, and time, by nature, didn't really allow them to figure it out. A-


Anonymous said...

My mom is absolutely obsessed with the royal family, so I assure you this was a fairly big event in the life of my family. I remember her coming in my room to tell me of the accident and her watching CNN pretty much nonstop (this was before Fox News) to get all the crash and funeral information. I'm pretty sure she even woke up early to watch the funeral live.

Hilariously, all the Brits I know could give a FUCK about Diana.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the creek scene is definitely the pinpoint on which this film turns.

I really liked how this film, with its fleshed-out characterizations, set up pairings through which we see the Queen. First of all, of course, we have Tony Blair and the Queen. Tony Blair, the modernizing upstart and the Queen, the traditionalist monarch. As the film develops (and as Blair's wife often notices), we see a role reversal as Blair is more traditionalist than he should be and the Queen, though pulled along, is the modernizer (at least, as far as monarchs go).

But also, the other truly interesting pairing is the Queen and Diana. We wonder, what would the Queen have been like if born under different circumstances? In the creek scene you mention, when the Queen's stony visage softens into a smile, we realize how beautiful the Queen actually is. Diana, of course, is the one who had all the freedom she liked to be flashy and charitable and the like. The Queen has had born the burden of the monarchy her whole life. The interplay of images that Frears sets up of the Queen's face and Diana's face is what makes us wonder about this pairing. Also interesting that we identify so much with the Queen!