The Queen examines the power struggle that resulted between queen and subjects when Elizabeth II underestimated the effect of Princess Diana’s death upon the British public. Helen Mirren delivers a subtly powerful performance as the Queen. Diana is shown in actual footage of the time. Michael Sheen is terrific as the newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair.
When Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, she (divorced from Prince Charles) was no longer a member of the Royal Family. In fact, the royals despised her for her celebrity status. They also disapproved of her unwillingness to accept Prince Charles’s infidelity. (Evidently Charles wasn’t going to be the first Prince of Wales not to have a mistress.) By contrast, the British people adored Diana as a humanitarian and a symbol of England.
The movie opens with the election of Tony Blair (who looks about 22 years old) as Prime Minister. Though he has already won the votes of the people, Blair goes to Buckingham Palace to observe the last formality: the Queen must ask him to be her Prime Minister. In a priceless scene, he kneels before the stern Queen, smiling hopefully up at her. She keeps him on his knees while informing him that she’s already gone through ten Prime Ministers, the first of whom was Winston Churchill. Blair’s smile fades as he is put firmly in his place.
Next the news of Diana’s death is relayed to Blair in his appealingly cluttered household in London, and to the Royal Family ‘on holiday’ in the remote highlands of Scotland. Blair rushes to make the expected statement of grief to the press. The Royal Family has no public reaction; they stay on in Scotland.
Tension grows as the grief-stricken British people bury the street outside Buckingham Palace with flowers for Diana. The tabloids chronicle their growing animosity towards the monarchy. Prime Minister Blair navigates with great tact and sensitivity between the stubborn Queen and her resentful subjects who demand an appropriate royal reaction. But the Queen’s stoicism is rooted in her dignified reserve. She too served as a symbol of England: specifically its heroic endurance during the War. Only Prime Minister Blair seems to understand this.
The supporting performances are strong, especially Helen McCrory as the Prime Minister’s anti-monarchist wife. It’s touching and hilarious when, for her husband’s sake, Cherie Blair bravely attempts the world’s most awkward curtsy in Her Majesty’s presence. Of course the distracted Queen chooses that moment to dismiss the Blairs abruptly. Out in the hall, Mrs. Blair demands in an undertone to her husband, “What was that about? Just ‘F*** off’?”
The rest of the Royal Family are also portrayed to perfection as irritable and conservative -- not known for their brains or beauty. Mrs. Blair would no doubt see them as anachronistic freeloaders on the British taxpayers.
But Helen Mirren is fabulous as the Queen in her drab tweed skirts and silk scarves. Her narrowed eyes peer from beneath a helmet of iron-gray curls, and she speaks with piercingly impeccable diction. She watches taped interviews of Princess Diana on television with obsessive and painful concentration. Her jealousy is obvious as is her bewilderment and intense desire to understand her subjects. Will she do the “right thing”? This is a complex and fascinating movie to soak up and enjoy and is available on Amazon through this link: