Sunday, February 11, 2007

the queen

When it opened last fall, I was not that excited about The Queen (official site, imdb, trailers, website for HRH ). Recognizing that they had the good sense to do away with their monarch almost 218 years ago, I am more of a Francophile than an Anglophile; thus, the prospect of two hours on the intimate workings of Her Majesty’s inner circle did not seem enticing. More importantly, I avoid current events movies like Flight 93 or World Trade Center, and I saw no reason to abandon a principle that has served me well.

However, since its release, The Queen has received tremendous critical acclaim and six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Watching The Queen has become an essential preparatory step for informed predictions Oscar night, and when Lisette suggested we go, I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Queen concerns the Royal Family and their newly elected Prime Minister the week between the death of Princess Diana and her burial. The story is framed by news clips and public events, but the actions and conversations are fiction imagined by screenwriter Peter Morgan.

After Diana’s death, Queen Elizabeth’s instincts are for private expressions of grief. She and Prince Philip feel that this is best for the children. Besides, it is the way things have always been done (stiff upper lip and all). The citizenry’s need for public mourning is inexplicable from her perspective, and it falls to the media-savvy Tony Blair to implore the Queen to reconsider.

There is not much suspense in the film as the outcome is well-known, so it is the details that make The Queen captivating. It’s the precision of dialog, the atmosphere of Balmoral and the contrast to that at Downing Street. It’s the beauty of the sets, the appropriateness of the costumes (compare the cut of Mr. Blair’s suits with that of Lord Airle’s) and, most especially, the quality of the performances.

Helen Mirren is amazing as the Queen, and she is surrounded by actors who portray their very public roles with astonishing credibility. Michael Sheen has become Tony Blair, James Cromwell is perfectly cast, and Roger Allam is both humorous and circumspect as Robin Janvrin, Private Secretary to the Sovereign.

If you grew up watching Upstairs Downstairs on PBS, thought Gosford Park should have won more Academy Awards and are convinced that Manor House is the best reality show ever, I’d tell you to see The Queen, but I am suspecting that you already have – twice. My recommendation is for those who, like me, were avoiding it. There is no need to be afraid: Stephen Frears has made a very entertaining movie.