Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Movie Review: "The Queen"

I had to be dragged to "The Queen." Despite the fact that it starred Helen Mirren, who never fails to amaze me every time I see her on screen. You see, I hate ANYTHING about royals, Princss Diana, gossip, celebrities, etc. Not that I hate THEM. I hate reading or hearing ABOUT them, ESPECIALLY movies about celebrities or royals. Ugh. Ick. Yuck.

However, Jimmy loves ALL this crap. If he isn't watching the Game Show Network, then he's watching the Biography Channel. Ugh. Ick. Yuck.

So, imagine my delight when I found myself absolutely and utterly transfixed by "The Queen." Far from being a biography, the movie begins, plotwise, with the election of Tony Blair and then gunshots right into the death of Diana. The rest of the film is a riveting, almost pulse-pounding moment by moment account of the week after Diana's death, where the royals, shut off from the real world, are blithely imagining that the fuss over her death will just "go away."

Since they pretty much loathed Diana, and thought she was the worst thing that ever happened to the crown, they stupidly thought the country and the world would also "see through" her. (By then, Diana and Charles had been divorced.)

"Of course she shouldn't have a royal funeral. She's no longer royal. Oh, look. My tea has gone cold."

As they shut themselves up in a castle up-country while London was burying itself in grief and mountains of flowers, the queen slowly became undone by both her husband, who kept scoffing at the "very idea" that they should even comment publicly about Diana's death, and her mother, who couldn't understand what ANY of the fuss was about, and how previous kings would have simply ordered everyone to quit acting out.

Meanwhile, Charles, who appears here as a weak-kneed mommy's boy who is petrified to let his mother know that she's making a big mistake and Tony Blair, who is finding his ratings going through the roof as he appears to be the only government official who "gets" what the world is feeling about Diana, are talking to each other and trying to figure out how to get the old girl to relent.

Stephen Frears, the director, tells the story lyrically and beautifully, but with pulse-pounding urgency as the clock ticks down and the royals are finally forced from back to Buckingham Palace, and the queen realizes that she is completely out of touch with "her people."

What makes this film remarkable is that you can you sympathize with everyone involved. The queen doesn't come off as a cold monster, but, rather, as the end product of the life she was born into. You can see her dignity challenged and her cool reserve thrown into a despair as Tony Blair finally has to insist that she is facing a consitutional challenge if she doesn't do or say something.

Alternately hilarious and poignant, this is the best movie I've seen all year. It's a history lesson, a civics lesson and an elegant portrait of a moment in time when the Old World and New World crash around each other.



Christine Bakke said...

Wow, thanks much for the review!

I am so like you and absolutely hate this kind of stuff. I would have never, ever voluntarily gone to see this, but now I'll check it out.

Steve Schalchlin said...

I guess I could have also mentioned that the script, performances, directing and editing are first rate, but I think it's all implied in my review. Helen Mirren is just stunning.

Jackie said...

Helen Mirren is enough for me to see any movie. But, like Jim, I like this historical stuff anyway.

My partner Monica's dad died a few days after Diana, so that was such an emotional time for us, full of funerals. Also, I have good memories about Diana. I will never forget the tremendous care and time Diana took with a young man and his family and friends during a visit here in Chicago at Northwestern Hospital. Keith had AIDS and was seriously ill. Diana sat and listened and talked with him and his family, waving off her people desparately trying to keep her on schedule. I remember my friend saying how comfortable they were with her, how geniune and caring she was and that it helped. So I understood why her people loved her, even if the Queen didn't.
Great review Steve, I can't wait to see it.

Anonymous said...

I, too, found "The Queen" to be both riveting and surprisingly entertaining - far from the dry, low-key, snail-paced character study which I had expected.

I saw the "The Queen" only to watch Helen Mirren, who is my favorite actress EVER but, was delighted to find that it is a very fine film in its own right.

Steve Schalchlin said...

I'm so glad you agree!