Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2006 - The Queen

I am writing to you now from cloudy Sydney, where Kat and I are visiting friends and family. Despite the lack of sunshine, it is still warm here and certainly more preferable than a New York winter.

My predictions for the Oscar nominations (in the last post) resulted in a fairly average hit rate overall. However, I managed to peg eight of the nine Best Picture nominees, and scored five for five in both the Best Director and Best Cinematography categories. On the other end of the spectrum, I had selected five tunes to be nominated for Best Song and still didn't manage to correctly guess either of the two actual nominees.

We now turn our attention to another nominee from the Best Picture race of 2006...

The Queen
Stephen Frears
Peter Morgan
Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms, Tim McMullan, Mark Bazeley
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
1 win, for Best Actress (Mirren)

Tony Blair (Sheen) has just been elected Prime Minister, anxious about developing a working relationship with Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren). When the world reels from the shock of Princess Diana's death, all eyes are on the Royal Family and how they will respond. The Queen's decision to mourn privately and make no public statement is met with confusion and anger by some, leaving Blair with the responsibility of managing the British people's expectations.

The story of The Queen is relatively straightforward, the majority of the action taking place over the course of one week. Unfettered by subplots, the main focus of attention is the Royal Family's reaction to the tragic death of the woman who was once a part of that family. As such, there is a sort of self-referential irony that arises whenever the characters discuss the way in which the press makes headlines out of the Royal Family's lack of response, refusing to let up about it.

For most of the picture, there appears to be a potent anti-royalty sentiment. The Queen and her family are portrayed as out of touch and often inexcusably unfeeling. Contrast that with the charming characterisation of Tony Blair, who comes across as the voice of reason, rescuing the Royal Family from their own inability to relate to their subjects.

However, by the film's climax, that sentiment is well and truly challenged, which is perhaps the script's cleverest surprise. As Blair articulates in his defense of the Queen, she has served the British people with dignity for over 50 years in a position she never asked for and is now being demonised for not showing enough grief at the death of a woman who attempted to undermine everything she believes in. Seen from that perspective, we realise how quick we were to fall into the trap laid out for us, the same trap into which the British public fell, foisted onto us by the press.

With the possible exception of Alex Jennings as Prince Charles, the actors do not attempt impersonations of the real-life characters they portray, which creates an interesting atmosphere. It's hard to buy them as the Royal Family due to the casual nature of the performances, but in another sense, it is that casualness that makes the story more accessible. After all, the film's subjects are human, just like the rest of us, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they behave informally when in the privacy of their own homes. Helen Mirren's (pictured) Oscar-winning performance is top notch, finding a way to present a well-rounded portrayal of a somewhat stoic woman who keeps emotional displays to a minimum. She is joined on screen by a very effective Michael Sheen, who is charismatic and affable as the fledgling Prime Minister.


  1. I liked the film and thought Mirren definitely deserved the Oscar she won.