Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movie Review: The Queen

The Queen

In Brief: What's Good

  • Helen Mirren's performance is just as good as everyone says it is. She deserves the nominations & awards that she's getting.

  • Very tight script. Virtually every scene is either dramatic, informative, or symbolic. There is little, if anything, that happens in the movie that isn't important to the overall story.

  • Excellent sets, natural scenaries, costumes, and the hair & make-up required to make Mirren look like the queen.

In Brief: What's Not As Good

  • Despite being only 97 minutes long, the movie seems to have a couple false endings--spots where you feel the movie could end on an emotional peak only to be followed up by more story material and a rather restrained final scene (possibly to reflect the restraint of the family the movie is based on).

A Story
A+ Acting
A- Directing
B+ Visuals

The Queen is a docudrama about the British royal family and how they and their country reacted to the death of Princess Diana back in 1997. It stars Golden Globe winner Helen Mirren in the role of Queen Elizabeth II.

The movie examines the British monarchy from all angles. Predominantly, the movie portrays the royal family as being cold and distant, especially when it comes to their handling of Diana's death. Queen Elizabeth believes that Diana's divorce from Charles makes her death less relevant to the monarchy and that the grieving of her grandsons William and Harry should be a completely private matter. She's baffled by the sadness that British people and the rest of the world feel toward Diana's death and the malice that they feel to the monarchy for not making a public statement.

The queen's husband Prince Phillip, played by James Cromwell (Star Trek: First Contact), reacts even more coldly. He gets angry over the fuss that the world is making over Diana and is much more interested in "stalking" (hunting) a wild stag near the royal family's Balmoral estate. He thinks that any grief that Princes William & Harry may feel over their mother's death can be solved by going stalking with him. The Queen Mother comes off as being less cold but still representing an "old school" style monarchy that was instilled in her daughter a long time ago. In contrast, Prince Charles is painted as a sympathetic and progressive character, plotting behind his mother's back to make Diana's funeral more public so that the rest of the world can show their respects.

Throughout the movie I occasionally wondered how much of the movie was accurate and how much was creative license. Considering the privacy and reverancy of the real royal family, I doubt they were consulted or interviewed about what went on behind the scenes during that week of Diana's death. I have a feeling that to get the movie made the makers were required--or made the choice on their own--not to focus on the reactions of Princes William & Harry, as they are barely seen in the movie and have no speaking roles.

In contrast to the royal family, Michael Sheen plays then new Prime Minister Tony Blair who is more prorgressive and in touch with the emotional reaction of the British people. While the royals are villafied in the press, Tony (as he likes to be called) is painted as a hero of the people. I was a little worried in the first few scenes of Tony that Sheen was playing him as a bumbling characature. I think that was more from his nervousness in his first meeting with the queen as a fresh, new prime minister. As the movie progresses, Tony becomes a more powerful force, using his position to influence the queen, instead of the other way around, but doing so with restraint, respect, and cautious articulation. He can easily become one's favorite or 2nd favorite character in the whole movie.

The queen, herself, is not painted as wholly uncaring. Further into the movie, there are moments where Elizabeth shows some emotional vulnerability and some doubt about the role of a monarchy in a modern society. There are also some scenes between the Queen and the Queen Mother showing that in some ways, Elizabeth is still a little childish and naive, despite her age and influence. Having become a ruling monarch at such a young age and taking a role that is believed to be destined by God, Elizabeth definitely did not have a normal childhood or adult life. To a certain extent, one almost feels sympathetic towards her, realizing that her emotional distance and naivite are unavoidable in a role she is forced into by heredity and tradition.

Considering how the royal family seems obsessed with their hobby of stalking wild stags, it's nice to see the brief role of one stag in the movie symbolize the life of Diana. It draws a nice analogy between the hunters and the paparazzi that chased Diana to her death. The queen's reaction to the life and fate of this stag makes one hope she saw the analogy herself. If she didn't, it only reinforces people's perception of a monarch out of touch with her people. If she did, it shows that perhaps Diana's death actually touched her in some way and made her a better queen.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress: Helen Mirren

  • Nomination - Best Picture

  • Nomination - Best Directing: Stephen Frears

  • Nomination - Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan

  • Nomination - Best Costumes

  • Nomination - Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress: Helen Mirren

Golden Globe Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress in Drama: Helen Mirren

  • Win - Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan

  • Nomination - Best Director: Stephen Frears

  • Nomination - Best Motion Picture in Drama

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

This is the third time Helen Mirren has portrayed a British queen. She earned an Oscar nomination as Queen Charlotte in the film "The Madness of King George" (1994) and earned both an Emmy and a Golden Globe as Queen Elizabeth I in the TV mini-series "Elizabeth I" (2005).

Fun Fact from Internet Movie Database

When "The Queen" premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Helen Mirren's performance earned her a five minute standing ovation.

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