I went into this screening without knowing a single detail about this film. All I really knew was that it was about Queen Elizabeth II and that Helen Mirren was already being talked about for an Oscar for her performance. I will admit I had low expectations and I thought I was in for 90 minutes of talky boredom. Lucky for me The Queen has now risen into my top ten for 2006 as it engages a range of emotions from comedy to drama. You will bare witness to a fantastic performance from Helen Mirren, but Michael Sheen really steals the show.
The Queen is about far more than simply telling a story of Elizabeth II (Mirren) in fact she is only a part of this three pronged story that delves into the royal family and her government as Tony Blair (Sheen) accepts his role as Prime Minister only days before Princess Diana is killed in a horrible car crash in France.
Oblivious to what the movie was about as soon as the death of Princess Diana came up I was thinking it was only going to be a small portion of a much larger story. Little did I know, this is the story, and it couldn’t have been told any better. The struggle portrayed between the royal family and Tony Blair has the makings of almost a British version of “The West Wing” with a slightly larger production budget. The writing is superb and there isn’t a single casting misstep as everyone delivers on the highest level.
Queen Elizabeth and her family are caught off guard by the news of Diana’s death as they are vacationing away from Buckingham Palace at the Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Instead of returning home and taking necessary steps to plan the funeral Elizabeth closes herself off from the public and not a word is heard from the royal camp. On the flip-side of things Blair and his team are dealing with the devastated public as they lay flowers and await word from their Queen. As time passes by sorrow turns to rage as headlines begin to read “Show Us You Care”. Still, nothing is heard from the royal family and simple things such as the flag above Buckingham Palace not being at half mast become an issue. Blair and Elizabeth begin to butt heads on how to deal with the matter as the public begins calling for an abolishment of the monarchy creating a film that is just as intriguing as it is informative.
Helen Mirren is perfect as Queen Elizabeth, hiding her emotions as a queen until she just can’t bare it anymore. She is equally majestic and modern at the same time as she portrays a queen that soon grows unsure of her role in modern day society. Michael Sheen as Tony Blair could almost be described as the rock that England counts on and looks to in this devastating time as the Queen’s silence has forced him into the role of nurturing a country that is looking for some kind of response and Sheen takes on this role with seemingly little effort.
On top of the principals, the supporting cast is equally impressive as Alex Jennings expertly plays a cautionary and timid Prince Charles, James Cromwell plays Prince Philip with a brash and almost ignorant flair and Roger Allam takes on the role of Elizabeth’s aide Robin Janvrin with an entirely opposite nature from his performance as Lewis Prothero in V for Vendetta earlier this year showing his acting range. Finally, there is Mark Bazeley who plays Alastair Campbell, Blair’s speech writer, who played the role with just as much intrigue as when Rob Lowe played a comparative role on “West Wing”.
In terms of writing this movie is filled with gems such as Blair saying, “They screwed up her life; let’s hope they don’t screw up her death,” and “Will someone please save these people from themselves.” The quotes are comical and compelling at the same time. There is truth and mischief in their words that all lead to a fantastic climax that even non art house moviegoers will enjoy. With an equally appropriate and adept blend of archived footage and re-enactments this film will have you hanging on every word.
While The Queen will be reserved for a more “film” loving audience, escaping the mainstream, it is actually a film that would be enjoyed by the masses if they would only give it a chance. Even though Tony Blair can be heard in the film, “The moment for statements has passed,” this film certainly makes one as you can now begin to believe again that good films are still being made.