"My God! What a family!"
British prime minister Tony Blair's mystification and frustration with the royal family, as depicted in the superlative drama The Queen
, will mirror moviegoers' reactions as real-life events unfold amid imagined scenarios following the death of Princess Diana.
Helen Mirren inhabits the role of Queen Elizabeth so thoroughly that her transformation astounds. From the way she holds her pursed mouth to the acerbic asides that emerge from it, she reveals the monarch's rigid adherence to ritual and reserve. A lesser actress might have been able to pull off the ceremonial persona, but to portray the queen as multidimensional and human, as Mirren does, projecting steely determination along with vulnerability and confusion, is a masterful accomplishment. Hand her the Oscar now.
Also impressive, in a much less showy role, is James Cromwell as the stuffy Prince Philip. The Queen
is the kind of thought-provoking, well-written and savvy film that discerning filmgoers long for but rarely get. The story probes the British royal family's reaction to the August 1997 death of Diana, whose luster had worn off in their eyes well before she and Prince Charles divorced in 1996.
Director Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things
) and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland
) examine the changing tenor of British life. A cultural shift toward greater openness and warmth doesn't register with the queen, who is bewildered by the obsession with Diana, in life and in death.
The film takes place just after the car accident that took Diana's life, when Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and young princes William and Harry were vacationing at their Scottish retreat in Balmoral. It weaves a fictional story (bolstered by research and interviews with key sources) around these events, attempting to chronicle the queen's actions, decisions and moods after the fatal crash. The Queen
is a fascinating character study and a brilliantly crafted drama. It has some of the wittiest writing in recent memory and spot-on performances.
Blair (superbly played by Michael Sheen) understands the British populace in a way that the queen, in her tradition-bound existence, does not.
Although this is no documentary, we feel we are getting a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes nearly a decade ago. And the view we get is enlightening, edgily comic, emotionally affecting and profoundly compelling. The Queen
is majestically captivating.