In a year already riddled with modern benchmarks in U.S. history, Stephen Frears now enters the deal with a reenactment of a worldwide tragedy: the death of Princess Diana and the subsequent rupture in public faith in the Royal Family. It's a tricky proposition: where most portraits of the Queen and her brood are either overly-stiff (for comedy's sake) or drab-as-death (for drama
), Frears tries to show the family as no-bull normal people with dabs of sarcasm, sass and humor that could rub viewers the wrong way.
It begins with the landslide election of Prime Minister Tony Blair (a shockingly good Michael Sheen
) and moves to the car accident that led to Di's death. Frears then meditates on the decisions and the struggle between modernism and tradition that Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren
) and her family must consider in the wake of not just a familial, but worldwide, day of mourning. For those who don't remember, after the death, there was major pressure for the family to mourn in public, to show their grief and prove that even though Di wasn't part of the family anymore, they were still in a state of solemnity. Article continues below
1997 was a whole nine years ago but we were already seeing the death of the handle-yourself emotional vibe, the tradition of not sharing ones emotions in any public matter. The Royal Family embodies tradition, so the fact that the family and most certainly the Queen didnít come out of hiding for an entire week seemed perfectly okay with them. Only Prince Charles (a solid Alex Jennings
, dealing with the film's most uneven character) shows his face to the public for his ex-wife and for the sake of his sons. The fight for a modern emotional reaction seems to be at the heart of The Queen, and screenwriter Peter Morgan expertly uses metaphors and a fascinating sense of humor to deal with his characters and their core issues.Stephen Frears
has always been a wildly versatile director, but The Queen might end up being his swan song. He blundered, hard, last year with the disastrous Mrs. Henderson Presents, but films like Dirty Pretty Things, My Beautiful Laundrette, and his ridiculously rewatchable rendering of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity show a fearless director who never binds himself to a genre or a particular style. Here, he uses archival footage of the events and the repercussions and blends it with Affonso Beaty's stunning camera work that recreates some television moments and lets others speak for themselves. Where many would have expected dry, straight drama, Frears boldly asks us to accept these people as humans: flawed and ill-advised but ultimately with good reasons.
Then there's Mirren. Oscar talk has already been touted from every mouth that saw the film and her win at the Venice Film Festival didn't exactly quell that clamor. Mirren, always the classiest one at the table, has the foresight to see Elizabeth as the hard nut she is. When her old car finally breaks down (metaphor!), she looks at the problem and simply shouts "bugger!" It's in these deliveries that Mirren has truly mastered her character and found the bigger-than-life persona, but has also worked hard to bring such a huge character down to the level of humanity. It's nothing but ecstasy to see her plain expression as her husband (priceless James Cromwell
) calls her "cabbage" as they get ready for bed. Much like the film, she's a class act from beginning to end.