The Queen (12A)

Drama (2006)
103mins UK

Starring: Helen Mirren, James Cromwell, Michael Sheen
Director: Stephen Frears
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Inspired by interviews with expert observers and royal insiders, The Queen is a portrait of a family in crisis, examining the response of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and their inner circle to the untimely death of Princess Diana. Overwhelmed by the outpouring of public grief, the Queen struggles to connect with her public and shy relies on the intervention of Prime Minister Tony Blair to polish her wavering public profile.

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Won Best Actress (Helen Mirren) at The 79th Academy Awards® (25th February 2007)

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Read Peter Clee's Review
Read Sophie Abell's Review

LondonNet Film Review by Peter Clee

The Queen
The sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales on 31 August 1997 catapulted the House of Windsor to the brink of disaster. The royal clan's decision to remain holed up in their summer retreat at Balmoral surprised a shocked public, pushing royal popularity to an all-time low...

Helen Mirren in 'The Queen'. Poster of the movie. Copyright PatheSensing the public mood, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) faces the challenge of drawing the Queen (Helen Mirren) out of her family's private grief. Her Majesty's instinctive resistance to accord Diana a state funeral is forced to buckle as mounting pressure requires her to accept a public farewell for the ‘people's princess'.

Director Stephen Frears' film takes us behind the scenes to show the confusion and frustrations endured by the Queen and her immediate family in the momentous week leading up to Diana's funeral.

By narrowing down the storyline, the film succeeds in creating a claustrophobic air as the first family squirms under siege. "I was originally thinking about a multi-character, compendium piece set over the 24 hours (around her death) which looked at various people, both famous and not, who were touched by the events of that day in August" says writer Peter Morgan. "It soon became clear that the interesting aspect was how the Royals reacted in the week between her death and funeral. It was a family in crisis, locked up in the closed world of Balmoral".

Portraying such famous living people is no easy task. There's a fine line between developing a believable character and outright comedic imitation. "You don't want the audience caught up in your brilliant impersonation," explains Mirren. "You want them to believe who you are and go on your journey with you in an imaginative way." In this she succeeds; her manner is sufficiently familiar, dry wit et al, to make the story ring true and, refreshingly, Mirren doesn't flinch from revealing her subject's character flaws too.

While this film is at heart a docudrama of a pretty grim episode in the Windsors' recent history, there's plenty of room for laughter too. Enter royal sidekicks Prince Philip (James Cromwell) and the Queen Mum (Slyvia Syms) to lead the quick-fire quips in the royal household. However, the best fun is to be had from the feisty new administration in 10 Downing Street. Sheen, who played Blair in Frears' The Deal, relished the chance to resurrect the role, "There's a lot of humour in the film" he says. "Peter Morgan's writing walks a tightrope of insolence and boldness."

In the light of recent events it may be hard to remember that Tony Blair was once more popular than Churchill. The intervening nine years have seen the Queen regain her popularity and authority, while Blair has seen his erode. But we are reminded here that it was his judgement and charisma that helped lead the dysfunctional head family to a modicum of public understanding during this most difficult of times.

This re-balance provides some wonderful pay-offs for the script. When the PM reminds Her Majesty what a terrible drubbing she had at the hands of the press that September week, she quips: "You'll have them too". While that line would have had a degree of resonance at any time, the release of this film coinciding with Tony Blair's recent power-struggle with his Chancellor Gordon Brown – a gift for this film's backers - makes the advice all the more pointed.

As we've come to expect though, Blair gets the last laugh. During one scene in Downing Street an aide tells him that, "Gordon's on the phone". His reply says it all – for now and then - "Tell him to hang on".

- Peter Clee

LondonNet Film Review by Sophie Abell

The Queen
Helen Mirren delivers a tour-de-force portrayal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears's compelling portrait of the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in August 1997...

Helen Mirren in 'The Queen'. Poster of the movie. Copyright PatheScreenwriter Peter Morgan and his team of researchers have sifted through huge volumes of information to ensure the film is as historically and factually correct as possible. The most intimate and private moments between characters in the film are the product of Morgan's imagination, of course - some walls just don't have ears.

When deputy private secretary Sir Robin Janvrin (Roger Allam) delivers the news of Diana's death, The Queen and her family respond to the tragic news by remaining at Balmoral, where they hope to protect Princes William and Harry from the prying eyes of the media.

Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) flies to the French capital to accompany his ex-wife's coffin back to England where the Spencer family intends to conduct a private funeral. While newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) leads the words of sympathy, penned by New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell (Mark Bazeley), the royal family remains silent, trying to ignore the vicious attacks from the media ("Show us there's a heart in the House of Windsor") and criticism from the British public. "You wait, in 48 hours, this will have all calmed down," Prince Philip (James Cromwell) tells his wife.

The phenomenal outpouring of grief, epitomized by the sea of floral tributes outside Buckingham Palace, proves him wrong and Tony Blair feels compelled to step in, telephoning The Queen to ask her to break with protocol to address her people and give her consent to a public funeral.

Frears's film is blessed with a mesmerizing lead performance from Mirren, who captures the sadness, fortitude, anger and frustration of a monarch struggling to reconcile her private thoughts of Princess Diana with the immense adoration of the people.

Sheen brings out the nuances in his politician who cannot ignore his monarchist sympathies ("I think there's something ugly about the way everyone's starting to bully her"), in stark contrast to Helen McCrory's portrayal of renowned republican Cherie, who decrees the royal family "a bunch of free-loading, emotionally retarded nutters!" Supporting performances are strong across the board, including a suitably gruff turn from Cromwell as the royal with a reputation for speaking his mind.

Director Frears weaves archival news footage into his dramatization to powerful effect. He creates some unforgettable scenes, like an encounter between The Queen and a majestic stag in the Scottish countryside, or Her Majesty deliberating whether the time has come to abdicate. "When you no longer understand your people, perhaps it is time to hand over to the next generation," she laments - a consideration quickly nipped in the bud by The Queen Mother (Silvia Syms) who reminds her daughter that she vowed to serve for the full term of her life.

With its elegant writing and direction, and excellent ensemble cast, The Queen reigns supreme.

- Sophie Abell


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