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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Queen’ provides insight into enigmatic royals

    As the title suggests, Stephen Frears’ new film, “”The Queen,”” is indeed about Queen Elizabeth II, played with dazzling brilliance by Helen Mirren. But the film is much more than that. It’s far and away the most riveting and surprising movie of the year.

    It’s hard to describe this remarkable film. It’s often bitingly hilarious, but it’s not exactly a comedy.

    The opening scene presents Britain’s newly elected, young prime minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), preparing to meet the queen,who treats Blair with a distinct frostiness. “”You’re my 10th prime minister,”” she informs him. “”My first was Winston Churchill.”” Blair smiles nervously and twists in his seat. With his youth and inexperience, he’s out of place.

    Overnight, though, the peaceful world of Buckingham Palace is turned upside-down by a cataclysmic event and Blair is suddenly thrust into the limelight. The event, of course, is the death of Princess Diana.

    “”Will someone save these people from themselves!”” Blair explodes upon learning that the queen refuses to hold a public funeral and plans to issue no statement about the one-time heiress’ death.

    Diana, who had left the family only one year before, had not endeared herself to the royal family, but the world – much to the royals’ disgust – continues to adore her, which Blair captures when he calls her “”the people’s princess.””

    lowdown
    ‘The Queen’
    Rated PG-13
    97 minutes
    Pathe Pictures

    I never realized what it meant for Diana to be presented with such a title. Despite her lavish lifestyle, Diana – born a commoner and ultimately scorned as one by the royals – was loved by the world in a way the Queen never was, and the royals’ cold, unfeeling response to her death set off the most widespread anti-monarchism England had seen in decades.

    When crowds begin to swell outside Buckingham Palace, the mood turns ugly. A nationwide poll finds that one in four Britons are in favor of abolishing the monarchy.

    When a scriptwriter slips the word “”revolution”” into a speech, Blair jolts like he’s been struck by lightning.

    “”She’s more annoying dead than alive!”” snarls Prince Philip (James Cromwell) of his late ex-daughter-in-law. Appalled by the elaborate funeral arrangements, he moans that the place will be stocked with “”soap stars and homosexuals.””

    Meanwhile, Prince Charles (played to pathetic perfection by Alex Jennings; his entire voice seems to be one long whimper) struggles to comfort his (unseen) sons while collapsing into regular fits of self-pity and despair.

    The performances are universally flawless. Sheen not only looks like Blair, he captures all of the young prime minister’s charm and energy – a brilliant contrast to the stuffy likes of Charles and Philip. At a time when the soon-departing Blair is widely despised for his support of President Bush’s Iraq War, it’s poignant to watch.

    The one royal who doesn’t come off as ridiculous is the queen herself. For the film’s first half, she seems cold and impenetrable – just as she has seemed to most people for the last six decades.

    But we gradually come to understand her and even admire her. In a world that no longer makes sense to her, she holds fast to her principles; in a crisis that, in a way, threatens her very existence, she ultimately responds with dignity.

    The film’s brilliance is that we come to understand both Blair and the queen – neither is fully right nor wrong. We can sympathize with Cherie Blair, who despises the royals as “”emotionally retarded nutters”” and wishes for an end to the monarchy, but when we see the queen walk in front of her palace and see the furiously scrawled messages, it’s heartwrenching.

    “”One day it will happen to you,”” the queen informs Blair. “”Quite suddenly and without warning.””

    The film breaks a taboo so subtle and unspoken that it may not at first be obvious, even if we feel it being broken. It treats contemporary characters with the same lack of regard films generally reserve for historical figures.

    The events in “”The Queen”” happened almost a decade ago, but anyone who lived through them still recalls them vividly. That’s the shock of the film: It’s like seeing the most familiar sight in the world – through the other end of the telescope.

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