In Stephen Frear’s The Queen, he explores the relationship between the British people and their monarch during the week that followed the death of Princess Diana. The film follows the royal family, and specifically Queen Elizabeth II, as they refused to leave their vacation at Balmoral to return to Windsor to be with the mourning public. The movie includes many conversations between the Queen and her inferiors as they plead with her to return to London and appease the British people.
The strongest element of this movie is Mirren’s performance. Her depiction of The Queen has the strength to carry the entire film. She dissolved into her role, blurring all lines between the actress and her character. The conveys a sense of regality and urgency of her dilemma. The audience gets a real sense of her struggle between her traditions and remaining a relevant personality to her people.
Something important to note is that the title of the movie is The Queen, not Queen Elizabeth. In the closing credits Helen Mirren is listed as The Queen. This is very telling as conveys the sense that the movie is about the monarchy, not one monarch. As the Queen, Elizabeth is upholding the long standing traditions of the royal family and not pandering to a culture that lets all of its emotions hang out. Conversations between Elizabeth and the Queen Mum show that she would have done the same thing. The Queen Mum confirms that the role of the monarch is to be a constant force of uprightness and civility that won’t conform to changing social behaviors.
I found myself deeply absorbed in the movie, but afterwards I couldn’t help but think, other than Mirren’s performance, what does this film add to the cinematic landscape? All of the conversations are fictitious; we don’t actually know what happened behind closed doors. The audience watches Prince Charles argue with his mother about wanting to return to London, but there is no evidence that those conversations took place. Charles comes across in this film as completely useless and unable to stand up to and influence his mother, clearly traits not suited for a future king. But ultimately no one can be sure that these were his reactions to the death of his former wife and the mother of his children. It was almost frustrating at times because you expect this to be an "inside look" into a time that was so emotionally tumultuous, but you aren’t.
Another of the movies strengths, however, is how beautifully it highlights the struggle between old British stiff upper lip and the new sense of openness Diana exuded, both to her benefit and detriment. Diana’s fans wanted to see their monarch morning her the way they were and expressing her feelings the way Diana would have. Despite this, The Queen was simply unwilling to outwardly express sorrow or alter her traditions to fit the changing culture.
One particularly interesting cultural comment that this film makes is about the people’s potential power over the decisions over their leader. I did like the film’s depiction of a nation coming together to change the actions of of their leader. This movie is very much allegorical to the political atmosphere here in the US. Americans are constantly protesting President Bush’s war in Iraq and nothing seems to be changing. For The Queen to go against her traditions she would be breaking a centuries-old chain of customs, yet she acknowledged the importance of public opinion and values and ultimately acted on that realization. When it does come to convincing The Queen, the newly elected Tony Blair does it best. He appeals to her sense of country and her sense of duty by saying that her people need her in this time of need. Ultimately The Queen returns from her vacation home in Balmoral to her palace in London and is met by her grieving public. At this point she acknowledges their devotion to Diana (despite her protests that she was stripped of her HRH title) and that they wanted to see royal acknowledgement of her death. It is truly gratifying to see the power the people can hold over its leaders, and it is particularly moving to see it in this day and age.