Monday, February 21, 2011

The Queen

The Queen is a movie that purports to show us the British Queen Elizabeth II in all of her glory. Queen of Britain for over sixty years, Elizabeth II is still alive to this day. Thus, I went into this movie expecting an interesting story; I hoped that it would show me a day or week in the life of such timeless royalty.

However, this goal was not precisely attained. Fact of the matter is that, of all the people in this movie, the Queen almost ends up looking the worst. On top of this, the attention of the movie is not entirely there; the Queen, while present, is almost a sideshow to the events of the film.

A Diversion in Focus

A better name for this movie might have been "Diana". The movie starts with Princess Diana's death and follows the aftermath that follows, particularly the controversy surrounding the type of funeral she was to have. To that purpose, the majority of the movie's spotlight is on the impact of Diana's death among the British populace and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to convince the Queen of the necessity in holding a funeral open to the public.

Now I understand how powerful and poignant Princess Diana's death was to many people across the world. She was a dynamo among stuffier royalty, a woman able to act and think for herself in search for her own happiness, an inspiration to those in need as she traveled across the world helping people worse off than herself. Her death was tragic and sudden, and her passing shocked the world into silence.

However, the name of this movie is The Queen. Thus I was immensely irritated when the ramifications of Princess Diana's death effectively commandeered the movie. As for the Queen herself, she gets a good amount of screen-time, yes, but one never really gets much more than a surface level look at her. Her role is portrayed excellently by Helen Mirren, but it is a thankless role; the Queen's dignity and willpower are embodied perfectly, but her opinions and character are limited to her irritation with the whole Diana crisis. Sadly, the Queen's resistance to the proposed funeral preparations appear steeped in rigid tradition, causing the entire film to basically make her look ignorant of the people's wishes.

Propaganda Piece?

One interesting thing I also noticed was the portrayal of Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and his actions in the movie made him come out looking absolutely brilliant. I also got a greater sense of his character and point of view, again making me feel that this movie would be better named "Blair" than The Queen. Tony Blair's position was unenviable, torn between a public urging him to eviscerate the royalty and a Queen unwilling to compromise with regard to her own outmoded perceptions. But the film shows him walking this balance perfectly. It shows Blair's willingness to act when the Queen does not, and defending her even when she thinks the worst of him. And it also illustrates to the viewer that Blair's idea of having a funeral open to the public was the best idea, not to mention the idea that won out in the end. Consequently, Tony Blair becomes the hero of the story without a blemish or negative trait aside from a slight, if contextually understandable, irritation of British royalty.

By contrast, as I touched upon earlier, the Queen comes off as both blind to the desires of the British people and strictly attached to tradition even when it is harmful to the royal family and herself (insisting on a private funeral). She is not without rationale; the movie makes sure to point out that Princess Diana was out of favor with the royal family and thus, from their perspective, undeserving of a grand public funeral. But I still found myself getting irritated with the Queen's resistance; tradition versus the will and love of millions seems like a pretty easy decision to make. Perhaps I wasn't able to empathize precisely with the Queen's perspective. But, if that is the case, then perhaps that is a failure of the film and not my own perceptions.


In the end, The Queen was interesting to watch and largely enjoyable. I personally felt cheated because the movie was more about Princess Diana's death and Tony Blair than the Queen herself. But, if I were forewarned of this, I would have come out of it full of praise. It does effectively show how important and influential Princess Diana was to the world. And it also shows some impressive (though suspiciously too-good-to-be-true) statesmanship from Tony Blair that was compelling to watch. It certainly makes Tony Blair's wife come off as an ass, which I found both amusing and odd!

I don't feel like I know much more about Queen Elizabeth II than I did before watching, though, which is a tragedy. This provides further ammunition to my claim that, really, the movie should have been named after one of the other prominent political figures in that time period.

In short, if you are at all curious about the time period directly following Princess Diana's death, then this movie is spectacular. But if you go into it expecting a close look at Queen Elizabeth II, you will probably come out feeling a bit cheated and disappointed.

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