Review: The Queen

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Britain’s media savvy Prime Minister politely pressured QE II to avoid the appearance of having lost touch with the common man. The awkward tug of war between pragmatic politics and pretentious privilege, then, is the prevailing theme of The Queen, a compassionate portrait of the tortured monarch

When Lady Diana died unexpectedly in a car crash along with her playboy boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, in August of 1997, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) found herself facing quite a quandary. On the one hand, the ugly rumors of infidelity which surfaced during Di’s messy divorce from Prince Charles had reflected rather badly on the Royal Family. Thus, the Queen was not inclined to acknowledge her disgraced, former daughter-in-law’s passing.

On the other hand, the Princess of Wales’ hands-on work with AIDS babies and other charities had forever endeared her to millions of admirers appreciative of this unpretentious aristocrat who never put on any airs. So, while the country grieved during the period of bereavement, Elizabeth initially opted not to issue a public statement about the tragedy.

During the days leading up to the funeral, mourners began arriving outside the gates of Kensington Palace, Diana’s residence, in increasing numbers, leaving behind a staggering amount of flowers and notes expressing heartfelt condolences. Still the stodgy Queen was not amused, and refused to make an appearance, citing centuries-old protocol which mandated that defrocked Lady Di be denied any pomp or circumstance.

As a consequence of her clumsy handling of the situation, her majesty’s popularity plummeted in the public opinion polls, as some of her subjects started clamoring for the abolition of the monarchy. The clueless Queen continued to react callously to these reports, suggesting that it was merely the attempt of tabloids to sell newspapers.

Fortunately for the House of Windsor, newly-elected Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) intervened, prevailing upon Elizabeth to relent for the sake of her image. Britain’s media savvy Prime Minister politely pressured QE II to avoid the appearance of having lost touch with the common man. The awkward tug of war between pragmatic politics and pretentious privilege, then, is the prevailing theme of The Queen, a compassionate portrait of the tortured monarch.

The understated docudrama was directed by Oscar-nominee Stephen Frears (for The Grifters) who paints a convincing picture of what might have unfolded behind closed doors among members of the Royal Family while they was secluded at their Scottish retreat and deciding what to do about the untimely demise of “The People’s Princess.”

Helen Mirren is likely to earn her third Academy Award nomination for her endearing, warts-and-all portrayal of the title character. Mirren delivers a command performance, never hitting a false note in a production which admirably resists the temptation to tease such a readily-lampoonable figure.

Co-star Michael Sheen is just as impressive as the impish Blair, serving up an impersonation virtually indistinguishable from the real Prime Minister. The talented principal cast is rounded out by James Cromwell as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Charles, Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair, Sylvia Syms as The Queen Mother, and Roger Allam as Robin Janvrin, the Queen’s private secretary.

A sympathetic send-up of a well-meaning matriarch charged with managing her very dysfunctional family while her every move was monitored under the mass media’s microscope.

Excellent (3.5 stars). PG-13 for brief profanity. Running time: 97 minutes.  Studio: Miramax Films

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