Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Queen

2006, UK, directed by Stephen Frears

The busy Stephen Frears's latest film is set during one of the strangest weeks in recent British history, the seven days in late 1997 following the death of (the former) Princess Diana, with a focus on the relationship between the recently-elected Tony Blair (enjoying his Giuliani moment) and the Queen (played with surprising warmth, and consummate skill, by Helen Mirren). While the Boston-area theatre audience enjoyed The Queen as something approaching high comedy, this Irish viewer saw a more serious-minded film.

Based on that audience reaction at the screening I attended, it's not hard to see why the film might be accused of pandering to American viewers, but the behind-the-scenes wrangling will be much more meaningful to a viewer familiar with the Blair political team (especially the now-departed Alistair Campbell). Although the film never reveals whether it's with or against the Queen - at one stage, Blair (who is played with great conviction by Michael Sheen) asks that someone "save these people from themselves", while later he launches a passionate defense of the monarch and all she represents - it's a fascinating imagination of what the interactions between the sovereign and "her" Prime Minister might have been as that bizarre week unfolded. The opening sequences are designed as a criticism of hereditary rather than elected power, but the film's central thesis is that Elizabeth II and Blair are both essentially political animals, clever pragmatists ultimately ready to do what's necessary in the context. Peter Morgan's intelligent script makes clear (though not many critics seem to get the message) that viewing the monarchy as an outdated institution isn't necessarily incompatible with a sympathetic view of a woman who is, to an overwhelming degree, conditioned by her upbringing and age to behave in rigidly prescribed ways.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States