Monday, November 06, 2006

Review: The Queen

One of this year's most talked about and praised films, Stephen Frears's The Queen lives up to the expectations that all the hype has generated. It is in many respects a small, simple film, focusing on the Queen's and the Prime Minister's often conflicting ideas and actions surrounding the death of Princess Diana. While relatively small, it does not fall short on emotional impact and the capabilities of its principal actors. Snippets of Diana and the events surrounding her death bring fresh memories of that tragic event, making the technique of showing these old clips more effective than would have a reenactment by some actress. Much has been said about how the film brings out the humanity of the Queen and the rest of the royal family, how the Queen is a concerned grandmother and a lover of animals. It is a fair assessment; while the film explores the traditional restrictions placed upon the royal family and its protocols, it is also quick to dismiss the notion of the Queen as above feeling the fears and sorrows and troubles of common people.

Helen Mirren deserves all the accolades and praise that she has received and is likely to get more of (maybe even an Oscar). Mirren has always played stern women fabulously, so she gets the Queen's reticence and stoic grace perfectly, infusing her with the perfect amount of noble dignity. But in her moments of vulnerability (key scene: when her car breaks down on the crossing of the river and she sees the stag), Mirren, while never abandoning the queenly grace, makes her truly human, a woman whose world has come into question.

I had expected Michael Sheen to fade into the background beside the strength of Mirren's persona, but he more than holds his own as beleaguered Prime Minister Tony Blair. He very adeptly portrays Blair as a man of conviction and strength of character, never subservient nor disrespectful to the monarchy, critical yet fair and even protective of an institution that has fallen out of favor among many. His scenes are as much of a joy to watch as those of Mirren. The film, definitely not spectacular in the way epics or musicals are, works with its simple and intimate touches. Grade: A

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