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An Epic Clash Between Tradition and Modernity
by Matt Forsman on Oct 12, 2006
In the summer of 1997, the world was shaken by the tragic death of Princess Diana of Wales. While the public mourned the death of a woman who touched the lives of many and was often considered "The People’s Princess", there was another story not seen by the public, but no less compelling. This unseen story of HM Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family’s response to this tragic event is unfurled in stellar fashion in Stephen Frear’s The Queen.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth finds herself in quite a vexing conundrum as the public clamors for some kind of public statement of the royal family’s grief while the Queen struggles to deal with this personal tragedy in the monarchy’s traditionally private, reserved, and quiet manner. Complicating matters is the election of the thoroughly modern and image oriented Tony Blair as Prime Minister. Not to mention the royal family’s conflicting emotions about Princess Diana’s death.
The story itself is quite engaging, but even more engaging is the absolutely stellar performance of Helen Mirren. Helen has put forth a litany of fantastic performances over the years, but her performance in The Queen is truly the coup de grace. If Mirren doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Actress, it will be a travesty.
Mirren manages to pull off the cadence, mannerisms, and presence of the Queen in remarkably accurate fashion. Far from a mere mimicry, Mirren also conveys a real depth and complexity in her performance. The Queen comes across as much more than a cool, distant sinecure. Mirren gives the audience a Queen who is empathic, approachable, human, and often torn by the burden of the traditions of the monarchy and her own personal feelings.
An almost equally strong performance is put forth by Michael Sheen as the embattled Prime Minister Tony Blair. Sheen does a wonderful job of playing Blair as a man who is concurrently frustrated by the unwavering traditionalism of the monarchy and awed by it. While initially flummoxed and somewhat annoyed by the Queen and the formality of the royal family, Blair begins to see a different side of the Queen and her family through his myriad interactions with her regarding how best to handle the death of Diana.
As is portrayed in The Queen, the relationship between Tony Blair and the Queen is fascinating and complex and is essentially the crux of the story itself. Blair is the personification of "modernity" while the Queen personifies "tradition". The death of Diana presents an opportunity for Tony and the Queen to see things in a different light and learn a bit more about each other.
Stephen Frear has assembled a stellar film from start to finish. The excellent screenplay by Peter Morgan gave him a fantastic blueprint to work with and Frear made the perfect decision in casting the talented and versatile Helen Mirren as the Queen. It was also a great move to have Michael Sheen on board as Tony Blair. His performance is as important and pivotal as Mirren’s.
It should be emphasized that The Queen is a "fictional" account of "real events". Screenwriter Peter Morgan performed extensive interviews and research in assembling his story, but the film should not be taken as a one hundred percent accurate portrayal of the events and/or individuals involved. That being said, The Queen has an air of authenticity to it. While what we see may not be exactly as it happened, it’s easy to believe that it could have happened this way. Either way, The Queen is a winner on all fronts.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
by Matt Forsman on Oct 12, 2006
images courtesy of Miramax Films
Helen Mirren as the Queen
Michael Sheen as Tony Blair