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Old 4th Oct 2006, 11:36   #1
HP
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Default The Queen

Stephen Frears' docudrama about the Royal Family during the week following Princess Diana's death is an odd concoction of fact, homage, fiction and comedy, and for the most part enormously entertaining. Of course, the events and facts of Diana's death and the ensuing public mournathon are more or less indelibly printed on the nation's conscience; nor can there be many folk who aren't aware of the very misjudged response of the Queen and her family who resolutely refused to join the circus of grief, instead holing themselves up in Balmoral until the national mood, spurred on by hostile newspaper headlines, turned so ugly, they were forced to reconsider. In The Queen, Frears neatly sidesteps the danger of boring us all rigid with yet another replay of one of the most documented episodes in recent history by attempting to minimise the airtime given to known events, and instead showing us what might well have gone on behind royal doors, and the rather tense consultations that must have occured between HRH and Tony Blair, newly-elected Prime Minister and self-styled champion of Diana, 'The People's Princess'.

And for the best part it's a fun ride, though there are plenty of moments of poignancy and solemnity - and rightly so, given the subject matter. But it's testimony to the skill of the two main actors, the scriptwriters, and Frears' sensitive direction, that while gently taking the rise out of Blair (easily done, of course!) and showing how ill-judged the Queen's initial reactions to events were, you find yourself thinking Blair's not such a bad egg, after all, and Liz is indeed a wonderful, wise and dedicated monarch and we're damn bloody lucky to have her - concrete barnet, corgis and all.

Many of the laughs, I'm delighted to say, come from the Queen's ascerbic and deliciously dry sense of humour. Much fun being made of her obvious dislike and distrust of the Blairs. Her initial meeting with her new, nervously grinning, popping-eyed Prime Minister (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Sheen) being a hugely enjoyable squirm-fest, as the poor hapless bloke tries - and dismally fails - to ingratiate himself with a stony-faced, very unimpressed HRH. Another notable belly laugh is the sight of Blair, off duty and at home, wearing a Newcastle United football shirt, with Blair 10 emblazoned on the back, a guitar propped carelessly in the corner behind him. As for Cherie - Helen McCrory gets it just right. Irritating, beligerantly anti-royal, fiercely independent, and yet somehow winning us over by her ill-graced clumsy curtseying (under duress of course) and her obvious sense of devilment at the daftness of royal protocol. McCrory has a lovely liveliness that warms you to her character, too - though liveliness is not something I suspect her real life counterpart is necessarily blessed with greatly (but then I would say that, since the woman irks me no end).

The star of the show is, of course, Helen Mirren - who gives a superb performance as Her Maj. And if rumours are right, will probably find herself tipped for an Oscar nomination. She's already won the Best Actress gong at the Venice Film festival for her portrayal of our noble monarch, and no doubt there will be other prizes for the Mirren mantlepiece in due course. She really does get it right, from her carefully pinched thin vowels, to the composed, starched-spined solidity of her movements.

Michael Sheen is a hoot. As Tony Blair, he has the bright, eager, slightly silly 'please like me, I'm a good man - no, honestly!' grin to perfection. And it was a very stealthy move (and a very wise one) to take us from the slightly wide-eyed-and-legless new boy on the political block, easy to laugh at, to the rather more mature, sensitive, and essentially decent character he proves himself to be trying to pour oil on a nation's troubled waters, following the death of a beloved celebrity princess, and yet showing immense sympathy and gentleness to a monarch, whom he has come to respect enormously. Nicely done transition, that, and if I were Tone, I'd be well-chuffed to come out of this little exercise with so much dignity and honour - especially given that more recent events have shown him to be far from honourable and with little to be dignified about.

As to the rest of the cast, well, they all do a fine job, although there was one particular scene with Prince Charles, when actor Alex Jennings' gurning mimicry felt more like pastiche, rather than acting. But that's a minor carp, since for the main, Jennings manages to capture the very stiff-backed gait and peculiarly sharply-angled head movments of the prince to perfection - not to mention, the sense of a man who, while being wilful and spoilt, is no stranger to moments of angst and self-doubt. James Cromwell as Prince Philip has the physique and looks well enough, but I must admit he will always be the farmer in Babe, for me - and while he is suitably grumpy and curmudeonly, his voice lacks the essential husky gruffness of the Duke of Edinburgh. But again, that's a minor nitpick. And a mention should go to Sylvia Simms as the Queen Mum. Simms, once a pin-up and fabulously beautiful, has aged spectacularly badly, and while her roundedness is fine for playing the grand ol' lady of royalty, her face is too coarse, and far too much like that of a bag lady to do justice to the far softer, powdery gentleness of the late Queen Mother. But she captures the humour and redoubtable strength of her character beautifully.

So, there you 'as it, as they say. A slightly odd cocktail of history, fun and gravitas, but one that succeeds far more than it fails. Not so much a 'must see' I'd say, as a 'nice-to-see'. I would dearly like to give this four stars, but less than a week has passed since I saw it, and yet already it feels a little on the forgettable side ... not a keeper, as they say. So, slightly harshly, perhaps, I've given it .... and a very significant half.

Last edited by HP; 4th Oct 2006 at 11:57.
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Old 4th Oct 2006, 13:17   #2
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Default Re: The Queen

Nice review Honey, I've been intrigued by this all week as I have seen good reviews all over the place and been slightly disbelieving of them all, mostly because of its subject matter.

Anyway, I would go see this tonight if Terry Gilliam's new offering Tideland wasn't having it's one-night-showing-at-a-reasonable-time appearance down the road. I suspect the Queen will wait for me for a couple of days.

Nice to have a palimper's vote too though.
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Old 4th Oct 2006, 13:22   #3
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Default Re: The Queen

Great review, HP.

I've been interested about it but not interested enough to actually go see it. Maybe it's because I've never particularly cared for the monarchy (or for that matter Princess Di - I'm glad I was in the states when it all took place) or maybe it's because I've suspected it might just be better on the small screen. Doctor Kermode (he of some of the finest reviewing skills in the country, I feel) has said that he thinks it's a great TV drama, but that there's nothing which makes it feel like 'cinema'. Seems like you're suggesting similar things.

At any rate, I am at least pleased to see that when films like this are made, they are at least made with some care and attention. Just like the first TV show about the US President (The West Wing) was approached in an appropriate manner, I'm glad they've given this job to Helen Mirren, and particularly glad to hear she's worked wonders with it.

I can't think of many other shows or films about the Queen (or other contemporary head of state, for that matter) but there was a TV drama a while back - late eighties I think - about her main art curator being a spy. I can't remember the name of the show or the actors involved, but I do remember a fantastic scene in which the Queen and the spy are chatting about counterfeits, and it becomes clear that she's clocked him all along.

Anyone know what I'm talking about? I'd love to see it again.
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Old 4th Oct 2006, 13:37   #4
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Default Re: The Queen

That would be A Question of Attribution - about Anthony Blunt and the Queen, played by James Fox and Prunella Scales. It was written by Alan Bennett. It was on the BBC in the early 80's together with An Englishman Abroad (another Bennett script) which examined another Cambridge Spy, Guy Burgess and his meeting in Russia with the actress Coral Browne. She played herself, and Burgess was played by Alan Bates. It was superb.
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Old 4th Oct 2006, 13:41   #5
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Default Re: The Queen

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colyngbourne View Post
That would be A Question of Attribution - about Anthony Blunt and the Queen, played by James Fox and Prunella Scales. It was written by Alan Bennett. It was on the BBC in the early 80's together with An Englishman Abroad (another Bennett script) which examined another Cambridge Spy, Guy Burgess and his meeting in Russia with the actress Coral Browne. She played herself, and Burgess was played by Alan Bates. It was superb.
That's it! (IMDB link) Thanks, Col - it would have been bugging me all day long if you hadn't got it!

For some reason the name 'A Most Ungentlemanly Act' kept floating into my mind, but I know darn well that was about the Falklands War. Anyway, back to Queenie...

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Old 4th Oct 2006, 23:51   #6
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Default Re: The Queen

Great review, HP, and it's reminded me to try to see (ie find a way to get childcare) this movie. Helen Mirren is always fabulous. It's amazing how queen-ly she looks in some of the posters.

Just quickly, though... can you explain to a clueless Aussie what you mean by conrete barnet? Barnet = head... maybe hair? I need a lesson in English slang as a foreign language.
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Old 4th Oct 2006, 23:56   #7
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Default Re: The Queen

Thanks Kimberley. Yes, you got it. Barnet is cockney rhyming slang for hair. Comes from Barnet Fair. Barnet Fair = hair = Barnet (for short). And the concrete bit is just a reference to the way the Queen's hair is set so hard - must have lashings upon lashings of setting lotion and hairspray to keep it so rigid, that it looks as hard as concrete.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 11:08   #8
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Default Re: The Queen

Off with their heads, concrete barnet and all.

In the 80s, when there were American TVMs being made about the Royals, didn't we used to laugh out how crass such things were, even to attempt them? I recall Clive James getting some uproarious belly laughs from the very notion.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 11:27   #9
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Default Re: The Queen

Quote:
Originally Posted by amner View Post
In the 80s, when there were American TVMs being made about the Royals, didn't we used to laugh out how crass such things were, even to attempt them? I recall Clive James getting some uproarious belly laughs from the very notion.
And this is still very much my view and why I found all the 5 star reviews very odd. Weird.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 12:09   #10
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Default Re: The Queen

Yes, I had (and in some sense still have) no desire to see this film but all the raves do make me wonder whether I should. Then again, look what happened when I gave in and saw Million Dollar Baby...
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