‘The Queen’ deserves royal acclaim
Exquisitely British, “The Queen” is a reminder to the world of American blockbusters that it’s still possible to make films combining phenomenal acting with taste, drama and subtlety.There’s not a lot of big action in this movie, but the small strokes will keep you transfixed, and the real documentary footage of Princess Diana is bound to dredge up an eerie pang of grief in all of us.But this is not the story of Princess Di.Anyone who’s ever visited England and glanced through the palace gates or beyond the fixed stares of the guards has given at least a thought to the life of a monarch.Specifically, one wonders, “What exactly do they do?'”Diana’s popularity was due largely to her involvement in public charities and her general approachability, not to mention the clear proof she provided of actually doing many things. She led a life pointedly incongruent with that of the traditional monarchy. The contrast of Di’s openness and the royal family’s guardedness was especially pronounced after the princess’ untimely death in August 1997. And the way things were handled is the crux of “The Queen,” particularly the internal struggle of Queen Elizabeth II, Diana’s ex mother-in-law.While the whole world was immediately driven to intense mourning over Diana’s death, Elizabeth instructed the family to grieve in silence, and without public acknowledgment of any sort. This is how things had historically been handled in the monarchy’s long, long existence, after all, and the queen was certain this is what the people of England expected of her. Stiff upper lip and all. Shortly before Di’s death, the United Kingdom underwent another sweeping change, with Tony Blair and the Labor party being elected to power. Blair, played by Michael Sheen, is perhaps the only English citizen outside of the royal family to recognize the complexity and difficulty of the queen’s position, and is faced with the role of communicating to her their country’s new set of expectations.Actress Helen Mirren is a dead ringer for Queen Elizabeth II, and Alex Jennings achieves all of the bizarre facial contortions that Prince Charles himself can’t do on command. James Cromwell might as well be Prince Philip’s twin brother and director Stephen Frears deserves extra good-decision points for allowing the real footage of Diana to serve in lieu of an actress.Hard-nosed as she may appear, especially surrounded by all the longstanding gossip of her poor relationship with and lack of acceptance of Diana, we learn in “The Queen,” that Elizabeth II has a heart after all. With all the layers of socially imposed dignity, though, she herself is not even sure what to do about it … her heart, that is.Considering the woman was forced into her role at the tender age of 25, it’s not difficult to imagine how she became so calcified. Knowing that the queen served in the armed services during World War II, and seeing her haul around in a Land Rover in the movie, one is prompted to find a certain respect for the monarchy and its importance to English culture. Even while the Prime Minister calls a lot of the shots, “The Queen” helps us appreciate the need for figureheads, and regardless of their direct political power, the influence they hold.
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