“The Queen” may be the title of this film, and its lead character may be Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), but the subject of the film is Princess Diana, and her death. Had she not been involved in a car accident that resulted in her death, this movie would not exist. It deals with the Royal Family and the decisions they make after the Princess’ death. It also follows then Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), and his dealings with the Queen.
The film opens with Blair winning the 1997 British general election by a landslide. He is briefed before getting to meet the Queen about the protocol that is involved. Meanwhile, she is getting ready to meet him, although there is nothing she must do apart from look prim and proper. Blair eventually gets to meet her, and completely messes up what he was supposed to do. It doesn’t both her, or at least, doesn’t seem to. They have a chat, and he officially become Prime Minister.
Then we fast-forward to August, where Princess Diana is a media magnet. Everything she does is reported on, and it seems that she’s a fascinating person. She gets into a car in Paris, and, well, I think we all know what happens next. The Royals get a phone call that she was in a car accident, breaking some bones and receiving a concussion. She would later die. There needs to be a funeral, everyone has decided, although the decision of whether or not it should be public or private is the first bone of contention. Some people, including the Queen, wants it to be private. The people of Britain want a public one. Who will win out?
If you paid attention at the time, you know what happens. While The Queen is a fictional account of the events, as far as the behind the scenes stuff goes, it follows the actual timeline of events. A great deal of stock footage was actually used, most of which involved Diana, but sometime we get scenes of flowers laid down in tribute to her, and that was stock footage too. Very grainy stock footage that doesn’t have the same clarity as the rest of the film, but it helps to make the film seem more authentic and was a nice touch.
In essence, this is another one of those life films. Characters don’t get traditional arcs, there isn’t really a lot of tension, and most of the film just follows these people around and we watch them live their lives. It just so happens that we drop in on them during such a tumultuous time. But that still doesn’t change much of what the Queen does with her life, not until past the mid-way point, when she actually decides to do something about the negative press she’s created by not doing anything about Diana’s death.
As a matter of fact, The Queen could have easily ended much sooner had our lead character decided to react the way that the public wanted her to, instead of being stubborn by doing absolutely nothing, not even releasing a statement about Diana’s death. As a result, the Queen isn’t a character that we really like, even if we do sympathize with her later in the film, just like Tony Blair seems to do.
Near the end of the film, Blair decides to defend Her Majesty from mild belittling on the part of one of his advisers. For most of his screen time, he cleans up after her and publicly defends her, but when we see him when not in front of the public camera, he doesn’t have this type of attitude. His turn at the end seemed to come out of nowhere for me, although I can see why he ended up being a Queen sympathizer — we end up feeling the same way.
Obviously I have no idea how accurate this movie was in depicting what the Royal Family went through after Diana’s death, but I can say that the way it’s shown here makes it seem real. I’m sure some things that the film shows didn’t happen, or didn’t happen in the way it ended up on the screen, but I never questioned whether or not these things could have happened exactly the way they did. Maybe this plays to my own ignorance, but I’m more inclined to say that this drama feels very realistic instead.
I think much of this realism has to do with the casting, which is almost pitch-perfect. Both Mirren and Sheen fully embody their roles, with credit going both to the actors and the make-up personnel. There is some stock footage that shows Blair making a speech or a public appearance, and then we’ll cut to Sheen, and we almost can’t tell the difference. Mirren looks and acts similar enough for us to believe we’re watching the public life of Queen Elizabeth II, which goes to show how great an actor she is.
However, The Queen loses steam as it progresses, both because we realize exactly how it will end, meaning any drama is quickly removed, and because the script becomes less sharp. early on, it’s quite humorous, containing a lot of wit and charm. But then it just becomes about getting to an inevitable conclusion, and highlighting the performances of Mirren and Sheen.
The Queen isn’t an amazing movie, but as far as giving us a backstage look at the lives of the Royal Family after Princess Diana’s death, it’s pretty entertaining. It loses some of its charm as it progresses, and the Queen comes across as quite unlikable for a lot of her time on-screen, but it’s still a solid drama that will, for the most part, keep you entertained, as well as allowing you a glimpse into the mostly private life of the Royals. It’s a film worth watching, although don’t go in looking for much surprise, because you won’t find any.