LONDON — A 61-year-old daughter of a Russian aristocrat might end up gently alerting Britain and the world to a little-recognized phenomenon: Queen Elizabeth II is actually a three-dimensional human being.
Helen Mirren, whose career includes the un-Elizabethan credits “Caligula” and “Calendar Girls,” has amassed plaudits for lending Britain’s monarch just about the only thing she seemed to lack — a concept of nuanced humanity — in Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” a researched conjecture about the week of Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
As meritocracy grows ever more entrenched and the monarchy hangs on, seasoned observers think Frears — and in turn, Mirren — might have rebuilt fondness for Queen Elizabeth by resisting easy satire urge in favor of textured study.
“I think Helen’s performance alone will affect public attitudes toward the queen,” says Charlie Jacoby, whose expert-commentary roles have included Prince Charles’ 2005 wedding for BBC-TV and the queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 for BBC Radio. He saw Mirren as “a focus-puller on early 21st-century royal history, keeping the public’s view of the Royal Family sharp, filling the frame with bags of color.”
The people “don’t think of the queen as a human being,” adds Charles Mosley, the editor of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage and the author of “Blood Royal,” a genealogical history of the royal family. “It’s very tricky to think of a public figure as a human being. And to the extent that it brought it out, I think the film did a great service.”
To these astute viewers, Mirren excavated a wide array of human aspects.
Jacoby, a Mirren admirer who ranked her Elizabeth second only behind Prunella Scales’ in John Schlesinger’s 1992 “A Question of Attribution,” welcomes the portrait of adaptation, how the queen could shift from “formal conceit to a position of sensitivity.”
It crashes through the normal thirdhand views of the royals, he says, where “about the only fact that has come to us firsthand is from the Daily Mail journalist who infiltrated Buckingham Palace staff and revealed that the royal family’s breakfast is served in Tupperware.”
Mosley thinks Mirren conveyed the queen’s “essential loneliness” and “remoteness,” that Mirren “underlined the queen’s sense of duty” and the difficulty therein. And he enthuses that the actress finagled “a very muted role” of “one of the least demonstrative human beings on the planet (who) for all we know has never raised her voice to anyone, except maybe to the dogs.”
Mirren got Elizabeth’s disapproving “lemon-sucking expression” spot-on, Mosley adds.
Mirren herself notices another potentially illuminating aspect about “The Queen.”
“I think it’s given the monarchy the thoughtfulness that goes into it,” she comments. “They’re not just thoughtful, they think too much, particularly of history. They’re never arbitrary.”