There are a handful of actors I would pay even to see in a commercial and Helen Mirren is one. Thankfully, she prefers full length features with meaty content, such as, "The Queen" starring Mirren as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II -- as in, the one still reigning.
The film deals directly with the time period surrounding the death of Princess Diana, the main premise being the Queen's alarming disconnection with her subjects. Kept at a distance by her own "duty first" upbringing, the film illustrates a multi-faceted woman of great depth and emotional ruggedness.
Mirren not only looks every inch the part but exudes royal expectation at every opportunity. QE II is not a cold person, she's just absolutely English. As she states emphatically in the film, "We're British. We carry our grief with quiet dignity. It's what the world admires about us."
As history notes, Liz took the quiet thing a bit too far and grieving Brits openly criticized the Queen for her absence in the sad days following that fatal Paris car accident. Michael Sheen plays a charming Tony Blair, the brand new prime minister, and the only brave soul who helps the Queen of England come to grips with her own ignorance.
Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair, is completely amusing as the prime minister's wife who exhibits a visible disdain for the monarchy and all things stuffy and traditional. Her awkward, begrudging attempt at a formal curtsy had the theatre in stitches.
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, "The Queen" is a snapshot of a family, albeit an incredibly public one where no one has a job. And yet, there are more than a few moments that allow for sympathy. So much is expected of them and the opportunity to be simply human simply does not exist. Easiest job, according to the film, is that of Prince Philip, played by America's own James Cromwell. All Phil has to do is man the barbecue and shout political suggestions at his wife. Nice gig.
The filmmakers wisely chose not to cast anyone as Diana herself, who is only shown in the same photographs and television clips that we've all seen. Even Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, is played by himself in that famous news clip where he blames the royal family and the media for her death. Even her sons, Williams and Harry, are played by unrecognizable young actors, whose faces we never see.
Mirren gives us a monarch both stately and real, chilly but vulnerable. Well known as an animal lover, the film peaks during a scene in which the Queen, who always insists on driving herself while vacationing in the country, breaks an axle on the overlander and is temporarily stranded. Taking the rare opportunity for solace, she bursts into tears then spots a handsome buck quietly grazing nearby. She is clearly awestruck by his beauty and her face softens. It's then you realize that since she became Queen at age 26, Elizabeth has worked every second of every day of every year of her life.
© 2006 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 2006
UK - 2006