Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
The Queen is a dramatic biopic film released in 2006, and it was directed by Stephen Frears. The film is loosely based on real events, depicting life for Queen Elizabeth II after the tragic and untimely death of Princess Diana and the clash of personalities between herself and new Prime Minister Tony Blair. The film stars Helen Mirren in the title role together with Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings and the late Helen McCrory. The film makes up the second part of screenwriter Peter Morgan's unofficial Blair trilogy that all featured Sheer as the Labour Prime Minister after 2003's The Deal and before 2010's The Special Relationship. The film earned critical and commercial praise when it was released, with global takings of more than $123 million and a host of awards. Mirren was highly praised for her performance, finally securing her a Best Actress Oscar after a long and prestigious career.
What's It About?
In early May 1997, Labour leader Tony Blair wins the UK General Election and becomes the country's new prime minister. Aiming to deliver a modernist agenda and sweeping reforms, Blair's government works closely with a slick PR machine led by political strategist Alastair Campbell. Four months after the election, the nation is rocked by the unexpected death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the estranged former wife of heir apparent, Prince Charles. In the face of an unprecedented public outpouring of grief, the situation causes problems for the nation's leaders.
The Queen herself is initially quiet on the subject, making no public statement about her passing despite the pressure from Blair to do so and remaining cocooned at their estate in Balmoral. She also bristles at the prospect of giving her a full funeral ceremony normally reserved for actual members of the Royal Family, a stance supported by her long-time husband Prince Philip. While Blair leads the public mourning for the newly christened 'People's Princess', Elizabeth begins to wonder if she has misread the public mood and what implications that has for the very future of her reign. Should her priorities lie with her family and her two young grandchildren suddenly without a mother or a nation whose apathy for the monarchy grows by the day?
What's to Like?
If you like your dramas suspiciously close to real life then The Queen is an absolute delight, stuffed with amazing performances that almost border on impersonation. Sheen has enjoyed a long career with his transformative performances as Blair and he delivers again here, one of a number of actors who really bring their A-game to the set. Mirren is uncanny as the monarch whose personality and behaviour feel oddly plausible, given what little we know about the real Queen. It can't have been easy to play such an important person in world history, knowing that they could probably watch you (apparently, the Queen was so impressed by Mirren's performance that she invited her to tea) but Mirren is just faultless in the role - in fact, she would reprise the role years later on Broadway, winning even more awards.
The film actually does a great job of filling in the blanks between what we know and what we don't know, providing a story that provides plenty of drama and pathos. It's also a powerful reminder of what life was like during those dark days, something any UK viewer who remembers that time will recall with stark, sobering clarity. What the film does best of all is shine a light on the Queen herself, someone who has literally given her life to public service and was much maligned by the media back then for her apparent indifference. It stops to consider what the Queen may have been struggling to deal with, from family squabbles to the actual position of monarch itself. I'm not exactly a supporter of the UK monarchy but it's illuminating to see them depicted as normal people dealing with extraordinary issues. For fans of Netflix drama series The Crown, which has depicted much of Elizabeth II's life on screen in a similar fashion, this film will be almost essential viewing.
- Mirren admitted that once the wig and glasses were in place, playing the Queen came naturally to her. She also took vocal coaching to imitate the Queen's speech pattern and her performance was so convincing that by the end of the shoot, film crew were stood to attention whenever she was on set. Her performance was so well acclaimed that she received a five minute standing ovation after the film's premier at the Venice Film Festival.
- The movie depicts Campbell supposedly coining the term 'People's Princess' but Campbell admitted in 2007 that it was Blair himself who came up with the phrase. However, it was first spoken by a BBC journalist in an interview two hours before Blair's press conference so it's possible he borrowed the term from that.
- The film contains several things known to be accurate such as Philip using the term 'cabbage' as a term of endearment. However, the film also has some notable inaccuracies such as Robin Janvrin acting as the Queen's private secretary in the aftermath of Diana's death. At the time, he was only a deputy under his predecessor Sir Robert Fellowes but it is true that he first broke the news to Her Majesty about Diana's death. He wouldn't become her private secretary until 1999.
What's Not to Like?
For all the greatness and heavyweight 'thesping' on display, there were a couple of cast members I was less impressed with. As much as I enjoy watching Cromwell in almost anything he's done, I wasn't convinced by his portrayal of Prince Philip which felt a little too caricatured. The same can also be said of Mark Bazeley's performance as Campbell, whose fiery reputation was already so well known at the time that he directly inspired the character Malcolm Tucker in the sitcom The Thick Of It and later the film, In The Loop. Here, he feels like a sleazy scumbag with little redeeming qualities and one suspects that this is more reflective of writer Morgan's more personal opinions.
What worries me more is that going forward, this film will take the place of what actually happened until the truth is officially revealed. And to be honest, I'm not sure it should ever be. Given what was happening to her family at the time, the desire to know every decision and agreement made behind the scenes when they were under such pressure and facing an increasingly vitriolic public feels vulgar and unnecessary. Why should she have to sacrifice privacy at a time when her family needed it? It's indicative of the film's quality that it makes you question why things played out the way they did but it doesn't push through any ideas of its own. It presents its narrative as fact, something The Crown can also be accused of, and while it may be close, it doesn't have the authority to declare it officially. It is a work of fiction and at times, it sometimes forgets this.
Should I Watch It?
One of the better dramatised biopics in recent years, The Queen is an intelligent and thought-provoking look at a well-known but mysterious figure. Mirren is in sublime form, embodying the Queen in a way that few have done before and it certainly paved the way for further looks back at her reign including Netflix's popular series The Crown. My only issues are with how it presents itself as fact as opposed to speculated events based on what information we do have so it's difficult to separate what actually occurred and what has been sexed up for the screen. But Mirren's performance is well worth enjoying for what it is and thoroughly deserved all the plaudits she won.
Great For: fans of the Royal family, acting coaches, capping off Mirren's amazing career
Not So Great For: historical accuracy, Alastair Campbell's reputation, anyone who hated Tony Blair
What Else Should I Watch?
Given the length of her reign (seventy years in 2022), there are surprisingly few depictions of Elizabeth II in movies. Bizarrely, her first on-screen depiction was in a 1971 short sex film called Tricia's Wedding where she was portrayed by drag artist Steven Walden but thankfully, things have improved considerably since then and become a bit more respectful. Aside from The Queen and a much younger version of her appearing in A Royal Night Out, she is normally reserved for comedic bit parts and cameos such as her appearance in the first Naked Gun movie, disaster flick 2012 and even animated outings in films like Minions. I dare say that we will see more cinematic appearances in the future, hopefully of the quality we see here and not just as a caricatured figure of fun.
However, the British monarchy has long inspired a number of films in a variety of genres. From dramatic films like The King's Speech, historical war films like To Kill A King and theatrical adaptations like the highly regarded The Madness Of King George. Recent efforts include the Academy Award-winning performance of Olivia Colman in The Favourite and lavish costume drama Mary Queen Of Scots, pitching Saoirse Ronan's Mary Stewart clash with Margot Robbie's Elizabeth I for the crown. As for Diana, Princess Of Wales, there has been a couple of recent releases covering her life - the 2021 release Spencer which saw Kirsten Stewart earn positive reviews for her performance and 2013's Diana which earned nothing but contempt.
Queen Elizabeth II
Prince Philip, Duke Of Edinburgh
Charles, Prince Of Wales
Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother
Release Date (UK)
15th September, 2006
Best Actress (Mirren)
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score
© 2022 Benjamin Cox