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The Queen - Review

Dame Helen Mirren in The Queen

Review by Gerald Levy

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

IN THE early hours of the morning of Sunday, August 31, 1997, news began to reach London that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris.

The emotional response of the people was unprecedented, and it was magnified by a moving speech by Tony Blair describing her as “the people’s princess”.

Irrefutable evidence of the strength of this passionate response was to be provided in the course of the week as banks of floral tributes were piled on top of one another along the route from Kensington Palace to half way down The Mall.

But not everyone mourned to the same extent, and some, it appeared, did not mourn at all. HM The Queen lost neither time nor opportunity in making it appear that she had subscribed her name in a list of non-mourners.

She said that she shared the view of Diana’s family that it was for them to give her a private funeral. She made no public speech expressing sorrow. She stayed in Scotland. She refused to fly her standard at Buckingham Palace at half mast. Such conduct was much resented by the general public and much criticised by the tabloids. As the week passed, public support for the monarchy sank to an all-time low.

This film, well-directed by Stephen Frears, is about the efforts of the recently-elected Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to make the Queen understand her duty at a time of national mourning, and to protect the interests of the monarchy as an institution.

The parts of the Queen and of Blair are well written by Peter Morgan, and well acted by Michael Sheen and Dame Helen Mirren. But there’s a difference.

Sheen’s Blair is the Blair we all know; Helen Mirren’s Queen is a parallel character. Observation and anecdote suggest that the real Queen is a cool, knowledgeable, intelligent, ironic and witty commentator. Dame Helen, while professing emotional coldness, seems more petulant than rational.

But everyone can judge for themselves how closely the various royals and politicos correspond to their perception of reality. For my part, I thought that Cherie was well-played (as a radical wife to a conservative Tony) by Helen McCrory, but that Prince Philip and Prince Charles had unsuitable scripts and were inappropriately acted.

The Royal Family are given something of a drubbing in the film, but it will doubtless be those who admire it most who will be most interested in the film’s concern with royal protocol, and with individual members of the Royal family, large and finely furnished rooms, dogs, Land Rovers, stalking, and 14-point stags.

And although the film finishes with the speech of Diana’s brother at her funeral in Westminster Abbey on the Saturday after her return from France, his hard words about the Royal Family are omitted. Nor is any real explanation – except shock – offered for the royal conduct which the film so much condemns.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 97mins