Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I will readily admit that the death of Diana, former Princess of Wales, had virtually no effect on me at all emotionally.  One feels bad for anyone who dies at such a young age and you especially feel sad for those that she left behind, particularly her children.  But I personally never knew Diana, or Elvis, or Luther Vandross, or Kurt Kobain, or River Phoenix, or Axel Rose (is he dead?) so I often find it peculiar, but at the same time oddly touching how other people, who also didn’t know these people, experience this large outpouring of grief towards them.

It is apparent that Queen Elizabeth II also found it peculiar and didn’t quite get it either when it comes to the worship of celebrity in Miramax Films outstanding production of ‘The Queen’.  This film chronicles the time in the Old Country when labor party leader Tony Blair is first swept into office, the tragic death of Diana Spencer, and the relationship between the Queen and Mr. Blair during this strangely difficult time in British history.

Queen Elizabeth, brilliantly portrayed in a uniquely understated style by Dame Helen Mirren, is a woman of substance, tradition and protocol.   There seems to be some concern on her part when the people elect a new, reform minded Prime Minister in Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) but she receives him and anoints him properly.  For his part, Tony Blair is almost star struck by the Queen, going out of his way to follow the long recognized guidelines for dealing with royalty, despite the objections of his somewhat anti-monarchy minded wife Cherie (Helen McCrory).  The first challenge for the newly elected Prime Minister comes with the untimely death of Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed while apparently fleeing paparazzi in Paris.  The public

outpouring of grief for Diana was world wide and truly unprecedented.  Some people who were alive at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination compare the outpouring of grief to that of the former president, only much farther reaching. 

The death of Diana, as far as Buckingham Palace was concerned, was significant in only that it was death of the mother of princes William and Henry.  Diana was no longer a member of the royal house and as such did not deserve a royal burial.  Tony Blair and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) urged the queen to reconsider and bow to the will of the people who are clamoring for some kind of royal recognition for the Diana, but the Queen along with her husband Prince Phillip (James Cromwell) and the Queen Mum (Sylvia Syms) choose to maintain protocol.

Director Steven Frears, who also helmed on my favorites a few years back in ‘Pretty Dirty Things’ has created a film that works on many levels.  I found it interesting simply as a basic history lesson on the workings of the British Monarchy.  The protocols involved in merely speaking to the Queen run 10 levels deep.  Personally, I find the concept of a monarchy ludicrous.  A system that bestows privileged status on someone, achieved simply by being born, is just plain silly to me but hey, at least I know how deep my wife should curtsey should we ever be in the Queen’s presence.  The film also works as a character driven drama as the Queen struggles with literally thousands of years of recognized protocol only to find that in today’s modern times, change is not only needed but necessary.  Michael Sheen shines as Tony Blair, portraying him as a character who at the same time has enormous respect for, pities, and is baffled by the Queen and the Royal Family in general, and their stout refusal to change from what is expected to be done to what he believes needs to be done.

Coming off less than stellar is Prince Charles who is portrayed as a less than bright, paranoid self server who would surely throw his mother under the bus if meant saving his own hide.  ‘The Queen’ never falls to level of tabloid exploitation and gives an even handed account of that time and to all involved.  Diana is never raised to the status of icon deity and it even calls into serious question some of the decisions she made during her brief life.  Queen Elizabeth stance during her death was never done, it appears, out of malice and her decisions were procedurally correct, but arguably morally questionable.  She also may have let her personal feeling towards Diana affect her decision making as well.

Given his source material, Steven Frears has given us a poignant inside look into a world that few of us access to.   With stellar performances from top to bottom ‘The Queen’ is a film that should not be missed.

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