Elizabeth Be Not Proud

The film unrolls its carpet back to year 1997, when Great Britain witnessed two memorable and contrasting events. Political change blossomed in the beginning of May, as the personable Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) is overwhelmingly elected as the new Prime Minister. However, tragedy emerged at August’s end, when Princess Diana was whisked away and driven to her death in Paris. Inadvertently, the combination of these events would lead to a moment of crisis for HM Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). The woman, who’s been steadily reigning since 1952, gets in trouble for her lack of response to Diana’s death. She might think she’s grieving in a restrained and dignified manner, but to the public’s perception, she’s cold-hearted and swollen with pride. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that Tony Blair, the dashing and warm symbol of democracy, has the winning popularity she’s sorely losing. Has the queen endangered the British monarchy, for her people cannot seem to weather the climate of her ego anymore?

I think the real intrigue in “The Queen” lies in the blurred lines between reality and fiction. I do remember the very big news of Princess Diana’s death at the time. But since I’m not British and the news was almost a decade ago, my lack of nostalgia keeps me from being truly involved. Also, I’m not that familiar or knowledgeable about the royal family. Hence, I can’t fill in facts that the movie might have left blanked and I can’t really appreciate the authenticity of the actors’ performances. For these reasons alone, it feels like I missed out on something.

Unfortunate as that may seem, this doesn’t mean the contained movie doesn’t work on its own. On the surface, “The Queen” is a provocative character study and a vehicle for one of the year’s most noted performances. Helen Mirren is indeed splendid as Queen Elizabeth II. She not only embodies the persona, she also brings a dose of empathy to the role. She portrays the character as a lady who ruled at a young age and spent most of her life, cloistered on a pedestal. Yes, the queen can justify her actions following Diana’s death, but the woman should also be conscious of what her behavior might look like. Her stubborn silence and her uncompromising will to be understood are lousy ways of communication, no matter how regal they may seem. But in the end, I think the character still deserves respect. Even if she’s incapable of indulging in effusive sentimentality, her efforts to rectify the matter in the final act was also a roundabout way of her showing affection and compromise. For the film to illuminate this character’s dramatic arc so wonderfully is a crowning achievement in itself.

Grade: A-

Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms, Alex Jennings, Helen McCrory, Roger Allam, and Paul Barrett
Screenplay by
Peter Morgan
Directed by
Stephen Frears
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language