The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, at the end of August in
1997 released an uncharacteristic flood of emotion among the British
people and those tourists who were in England. Crowds flocked to
both Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace (Diana's residence)
where they laid flowers, lit candles and left mementos. The lack of
a response by the sitting monarch Queen Elizabeth II and other
members of the royal family struck the British as heartless, to say
the least. Yet who would have thought that those events would be
the turning point around which one of the year's best movies would
THE QUEEN, written by Peter Morgan (who co-wrote THE LAST
) and directed by Stephen Frears, mostly unfolds
during the week following Diana's untimely death in Paris.

Morgan has done a masterful job of imagining the goings on
behind the scenes at the twin houses of power in England: those of
Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen in a superb performance) at
10 Downing Street and those of Queen Elizabeth II (a peerless Helen
Mirren) at Buckingham Palace and at Balmoral. Her Royal Highness
feels that Diana's death should be treated as a private matter and
refuses to speak publicly about the accident or her former in-law.
There's clearly a sense that Diana was not well liked by the Queen
or Prince Philip (James Cromwell). Since the royal family is removed
from London, they see how the British people are reacting to Diana's
death from a distance -- via television and the newspapers. It falls
to Blair -- who with his wife Cherie (the astringent Helen McCrory)
original viewed the royals with bemusement -- to guide the queen
into action.

At first, Elizabeth II digs in her heels and refuses to hear
anything about returning to London or breaking any of the centuries'
old protocol. As far as she's concerned, Diana is no longer a member
of the family and that's that. What she underestimates is the power
of the press and just how the former Princess of Wales had
manipulated Fleet Street (as much as how Fleet Street manipulated
her). When the monarch comes across a television interview with
Diana she stops and stares at it as if watching an alien being -- a
creature who had nothing in common with the woman she came
to know. Mirren does wonders with these few silent moments. In
fact, Mirren dominates the film and humanizes the dowdy woman
with the handbag. She's feisty, unsure, even reverting herself to
a little girl (there's a funny/touching moment when she knocks on
the Queen Mother's door and let's out a small cry of "Mummy.")

Sheen is equally good as the somewhat callow Blair -- first
seen knowing little of the protocol that is required of him. He
comes to admire the woman and the institution for which she stands
(much to his wife's displeasure -- "All Labour ministers eventually
fall in love with their Queen," she observes). Blair's one mistake is
thinking that his role in guiding the monarch and her family in the
choppy waters of public relations somehow means they've formed
a bond. In a brief coda, it becomes quite clear that the monarch
will brook no such thing. She clearly spells out to him that he is
a public servant and just as easily could loose it all while she and
her kind have held onto the monarchy for eons.

THE QUEEN is one of the most entertaining and well made
feature films to come along in a while. It showcases a brilliant
performance by its leading lady, Helen Mirren, and features
sublime supporting performances from the aforementioned Sheen
and Cromwell as well Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mother, Alex
Jennings as Prince Charles, Mark Bazely as Blair's speechwriter who
coins the term "people's princess," and Roger Allam as a major domo
for the royals who is sympathetic to Blair's entreaties.

Stephen Frears direct the film with grace and flair, and
the decision to utilize existing footage of Diana and the throngs
outside of Balmoral and Buckingham Palace is a masterstroke. He
and his production team are to be commended for the seamless
manner in which they incorporate the footage. My one quibble with         
the film is Morgan's heavy-handed allegorical use of a stag. I can
understand the impulse, but it was the one false note in an otherwise
superb movie.

                Rating:                A -
                MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for brief strong language
                Running time:      97 mins.  

The Queen
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.