Helen Mirren, who plays Queen Elizabeth II in this admirable film, ought to be crowned queen of the British Film Academy. Fresh off her portrayal of Liz the First, (the 2005 HBO made-for-television miniseries that won 9 Emmy’s including one for Mirren as best actress) she steps flawlessly into a role that humanizes – and sympathizes with - today’s queen of England. Mirren even looks like Queen Elizabeth II, from the hair, to the glasses, to the handbags, to posture, to wardrobe.
It is only going on ten years since Princess Diana, the mother of the queen’s grandchildren by Prince Charles, died in the tragic accident. The film is an examination of the Royal Family’s reaction (or lack thereof) to Diana’s death on August 31, 1997 through to her funeral on September 6th. The film moves effortlessly between news footage and dramatization, and imaginations of what must have gone on in the Queen’s mind and conversations in the household. I liked Michael Sheen’s portrayal of the Prime Minister Tony Blair and Helen McCrory as his wife; they were set up as a parallel to the Royal Family, thus showing the Labour Party man Blair in awe of the monarchy, his politics not withstanding. This ambivalent tension between the people (including politicians) and the monarchy must be what keeps it in existence.
Once again I was moved by Diana’s death, the passing of “the people’s princess”, and even the idea that the Queen actually felt something besides an attack of tradition at her passing.
This is a short film (about 1 hour and 43 minutes) and indeed like a snapshot of “the old girl” as my grandfather, who came from Birmingham, England, used to call her (even though he was about 25 years older than her!) He came to the USA when he was 16 years old, became a citizen, and died when he was almost 90 (just a couple of months short of Queen Elizabeth’s 1983 visit to San Diego where he lived; a visit he was so looking forward to!) He always admired the queen, and kept a book about the royal family on his bookshelf. Even though he never returned to England – and he could have – he always loved the Queen.
You could wait to see this one on DVD, but it’s bound to garner Mirren (and maybe Michael Sheen) some nominations.
I always admired the Queen Mother, but she’s portrayed in a rather unflattering way here. Hmm. But the film wants us to like Charles …. You decide!