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On Nov. 17, 2006, Miramax unveiled the Helen Mirren-starring The Queen in wide release stateside. The royal drama would go on to gross $123 million and earn six nominations, including best picture, at the 79th Academy Awards, claiming a best actress win for Mirren. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The Queen represents a new kind of docudrama that scrutinizes public events where the wounds are still raw. Queen slips audaciously behind the famous facades of Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing St. and Balmoral Castle to catch Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair in action. Both these personages, of course, still occupy those positions. Peter Morgan’s well-researched screenplay, which the ever-versatile director Stephen Frears has meticulously brought to vibrant life, zeroes in on the traumatic week in August 1997 following Princess Diana’s death in a Paris car crash. The film, a fascinating mix of high-minded gossip and historical perspective, examines the clash of values — of ritual and traditions versus media savvy and political ambition — that leads to a crisis for the British monarchy.
One is so used to seeing movies and TV shows mock the British monarchy that it takes a while to adjust: This is a serious attempt to delve into the thinking and beliefs of several extremely well-known yet distant personalities. The actors do not look too much like their real-life counterparts; this is no Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. But the actors and filmmakers are dedicated to capturing their behavioral ticks, speech patterns and mind-sets so as to accurately as possible catch their actions and reactions to this tragedy. Boxoffice will be through the roof in the U.K., but in the U.S. probably only Anglophiles, admirers of Frears and adventurous filmgoers will line up for this Miramax release. That could mean limited domestic boxoffice. In the days following Princess Di’s death, Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren), cocooned with her family in dangerous isolation at her summer retreat of Balmoral in Scotland, seriously misreads the grief of her subjects. Her silence over the princess’ death, which she considers a “private matter,” damages her image and the institution of the monarchy. Blair, a slick political practitioner of spin and PR, seeks to overcome the family’s denial and confusion with an aggressive mix of persuasion and pressure.
With nearly everyone involved still very much alive today, it makes good sense for Queen to take a balanced and sympathetic view. But it makes good dramatic sense as well. Mirren’s Queen comes off initially as a relic of a bygone era with a direct link to Queen Victoria herself. But over the course of the week, she emerges as well, a queen with dignity and durability, a woman dedicated to doing her duty but needing to cope with a newly discovered “shift in values.” Mirren is superb in finding those telling moments where the royal mask drops to reveal the flesh-and-blood woman.
So, too, must Sheen’s Blair adapt to an evolving situation. Whereas he is a little weak-kneed in his first audience with the Queen, despite his wife Cherie’s (Helen McCrory) well-known anti-royalist sentiments, he now exhales and begins to push none too gently.
Prince Charles (Alex Jennings, stiff but correctly so) comes off as the voice of modernity in the family, but also a bit wimpy as he fears assassination in the days following his ex-wife’s death. The Queen Mum (Sylvia Syms) is the soul of comfort and tempered advice for her daughter, but the advice pertains to another era and is of no use. Only Prince Philip (American James Cromwell, who really does not fit into this mix) acts like a blustering fool. Press notes claim that Morgan had “access to an exceptional array of inside sources” for these royal portraits. Wouldn’t you love to know his source for the scene in which Prince Philip crawls into bed with the Queen and murmurs, “Move over, Cabbage.”
The film’s design is terrific as the formality in the Queen’s apartments contrast brilliantly to the rough-and-tumble casualness of Blair’s “Just call me Tony” office and household. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally reviewed at the Venice Film Festival and published on Sept. 5, 2006.
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