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I generally don’t find many biopics to be great cinema. Most times you get a bloated story spanning what feels like millennia with only a charismatic mimic to guide your way. Films like Ray and Walk the Line were good for what they were and contained very good performances from their stars. However, watching someone reach stardom only to see him fall and be eventually redeemed can get very uninteresting. Thankfully every once in a while you’ll get a biopic with a real story, an arc that has substance and meaning no matter who was involved. One of these films was last year’s Capote, a brilliant cast of actors and an enthralling story of murder, compassion, and misguided affection. Much in this style comes Stephen Frears’ The Queen. With but a short week of time to tell, screenwriter Peter Morgan is able to show us a slice of life in the government of England and how they react to heavy turmoil. With the death of Princess Diana, we are shown how a country mourns its loss and how they force their monarch to change the values of a nation.

What is truly fact or fiction, I really don’t know. If I am to hold what occurs in this film as truth, which I will for the sake of reviewing said film, it is heartbreaking to watch Queen Elizabeth II fall out of favor with her constituents for only doing what she was meant to do. England is not a democracy; its royalty live by a code of conduct and lead their people with unflinching devotion to their prosperity. When these people decide to worship the memory of a woman who left the family, threw back at them what was given to her, and instead used her celebrity to make a name for herself, they expect all to feel their grief. The Queen feels devastation in what happened to the mother of her grandchildren, and being that she no longer was a member of the royal family, allowed the departed’s kin to set the rules. Diana’s family wanted a private burial away from the media scrutiny that all but murdered her. The Queen does everything she can to keep the wishes of those intimately involved in tact. Unfortunately the people have spoken and all must do their beckoning. It’s as if England had become a democracy overnight, telling their elected official what she should be doing, canonizing the deceased while stringing up their leader. In order to save face, Elizabeth must bend to the people and give them what it is they want against all she has ever been taught. She must become a puppet for these men and women who have lost their dignity and instead turned to idol worship and celebrity stardom. The media made Diana who she was, killed her, and then nearly brought down the country as a result. Elizabeth didn’t even bow down to a majority rule; no the democracy that formed around her was only at 25% for the dissolving of the monarchy. Credit Tony Blair for seeing the trouble happening and realizing his duty to the crown to try and get the Queen to acquiesce to the people’s demands, no matter how unnecessary that action should have been.

Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen are astonishing in their roles as Queen and Tony Blair respectively. They encompass their characters fully and show the inner struggle they each must deal with in order to come out of the media frenzy alive. While the Queen knows her place and did what she felt was called upon in her position, Blair knew the changing times and through utter respect for his Queen, while his coworkers wanted it out of contempt, tried his best to find a middle ground. The two great moments in this film come when Mirren first begins to crack emotionally and when Blair finally shows his respect for what his leader is doing. The reaction upon being asked to help the people grieve by Mirren is brilliant. Her finally saying that see has a grieving family to take care of first and foremost showed her motherly instincts and the fact that Diana was a person and not a figure or photo in a magazine worshipped by the masses. As for Sheen’s shining moment, when his people begin berating the Queen for giving a speech to the people but not believing a word she is saying of it, he finally snaps and says that is why she is so great a leader. She was willing to go against herself in order to save the crippling effect her supposed mistakes had on the nation. Being able to put her job aside for a moment, a job she was raised to believe was given to her by God, showed real courage and strength. To express that humility must have taken a lot out of her, but she made the sacrifice.

It is a real difficulty to side with the people of Britain when, during the many cut scenes of real footage, we see thousands of camera flashes amongst those crying. Yes people felt sad about the death, but unfortunately many people were just there for the spectacle, for bragging rights of saying they were there. How could they have the gall to make the Queen put the flag standard at half-mast above the palace when it wouldn’t happen even if she herself died? I credit Frears for making both the Queen and Blair at opposition yet at each other’s side. There is great impartiality shown here and those who view it can take what they will. To me it opened my eyes to the fact that the people of Britain made the monarchy change what it stood for because of a woman who was not a member of it. Unfortunately humanity has come to the point where a celebrity means more than those that are in power to lead and protect us. I’m sure just allowing me the opportunity to make a judgment on the proceedings, to see all sides of the incident, is all the filmmakers could have wished for. I applaud their success.

The Queen 8/10

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photography:
[1] Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen in THE QUEEN. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham/Courtesy of Miramax Films.
[2] (L-R) Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Dame Helen Mirren as the Queen in THE QUEEN. Photo credit: Laurie Sparham/Courtesy of Miramax Films.

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