×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Queen

Tradition and informality collide -- and mutually benefit -- in the deliciously written and expertly played "The Queen." Dramatized version of the week following the death of Princess Di, cheekily mixes on-the-nail perfs and docu footage into a witty, and finally moving, recreation of a period that challenged both royals and pols.

With:
The Queen - Helen Mirren Tony Blair - Michael Sheen Prince Philip - James Cromwell Cherie Blair - Helen McCrory Prince Charles - Alex Jennings Robin Janvrin - Roger Allam Queen Mother - Sylvia Syms Alastair Campbell - Mark Bazeley Portrait artist - Earl Cameron Stephen Lamport - Tim McMullan

Tradition and informality collide — and mutually benefit — in the deliciously written and expertly played “The Queen.” Dramatized version of the week following the death of Princess Di, from the different vantage points of the British royal family and newly elected Prime Minis-ter Tony Blair, cheekily mixes on-the-nail perfs and docu footage into a witty and finally moving re-creation of a period that challenged both royals and pols. Toplined by a socko per-formance from Helen Mirren, the small, upscale pic should prove a modest theatrical suc-cess on the back of heavy promo and positive crix, with lotsa ancillary mileage.

Film preemed Sept. 2 at the Venice fest to major plaudits, and should prove a classy opener at the New York fest Sept. 29. It’s the second collaboration between helmer Stephen Frears and scripter Peter Morgan after their 2003 TV movie “The Deal,” which re-created in a similar way the pri-vate arrangement struck between Blair and (current Chancellor) Gordon Brown over sharing of power if New Labor won the election.

Opening on May 2, 1997, “The Queen” picks up almost where “The Deal” left off, as Blair (Mi-chael Sheen, encoring) and wife Cherie (Helen McCrory) are on a high with news of their overnight landslide victory. That day, they go for the traditional audience with the queen (Mirren), to be “invited” to form a new govern-ment. Anti-royalist Cherie is scornful of the whole procedure; Blair is boyishly nervous; the queen is politely scornful of the populist upstarts.

Almost four months later, all the players are woken by news of Diana’s car crash in Paris — “What’s she done now?” gripes Prince Philip (James Cromwell) — and, as they all gather round TVs in their pajamas, her subsequent death. Queen Elizabeth (never a Diana fan) is icily controlled, seeing it as a private family mat-ter. Blair, still hugely popular but untested as a leader, senses a potential crisis in the making. But his spinmeister, Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley), is already on the job, jotting down the words “peo-ple’s princess.”

Caught on their summer vaca-tion at Balmoral Castle in Scot-land, rather than at London’s Buckingham House, Elizabeth battens down the hatches and refuses any official comment. Despite enormous outpourings of national grief and media pressure, she won’t entertain Blair’s request for a public funeral, chiefly on protocol grounds that, when she died, divorced Diana was no longer a member of the royal family.

With the bit between his teeth, egged on by Cherie, Blair opines: “They screwed up her life; let’s hope they don’t screw up her death.” He seizes the political opportunity in an emotive speech in which he uses the term “peo-ple’s princess,” and later is pri-vately supported by Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), who agrees the royals must “modern-ize” and meet the mood of the country.

During the next five days, lead-ing up to Diana’s funeral, the twin poles of protocol vs. pragmatism, private grief vs. public mourning and duty vs. opportunism bend this way and that. The queen, battered by the media, is gradually persuaded by Blair to come out of her foxhole and meet public demand halfway.

What’s cleverest about Mor-gan’s script is that Blair himself is shown learning from the queen’s professionalism and eventual sense of duty, to the point where he defends her against Cherie’s and Campbell’s anti-royal sneers. But his admiration is more that of a political survivor than anything else, of a man still insecure in his new job who can learn from someone who’s been at it for almost half a century.

In one of the script’s several neat refs to the present day, Queen Elizabeth tells Blair that “one day, quite suddenly and without warn-ing, the same thing (public hostil-ity) will happen to you,” rendering the perky pol momentarily speech-less.

Like “The Deal,” pic is essen-tially about the finessing of a problem and the lessons learned during it. But the emotional and ethical borders of “The Queen” are much larger, giving the movie an extra heft that makes it play well on the bigscreen.

Much of that heft also is due to Mirren’s performance, which starts off as simply an uncanny look-alike job, with the cut-glass accent down to a T, and gradually takes on layers of texture. Thesp reaches into the royal’s most private mo-ments — rigorously writing her private diary, or alone on a Scot-tish moor — without tipping into bathos or pure impersonation.

In the latter half, Sheen also manages the same trick, to the point where the crucial phone calls between the two, who only meet face-to-face at start and finish, start to pack a real emotional punch as they find a mutual rap-prochement.

Supports are all on the button, with often creepily accurate body language — from Yank Cromwell’s blithe Prince Philip, through McCrory’s snide Cherie, to Baze-ley’s cocky Campbell and Jennings’ contrite Prince Charles. Roger Allam discreetly fills in the background as the queen’s private secretary, and vet Sylvia Syms is almost unrecognizable as the waspish, seen-it-all Queen Mother, who’s quite content to talk about her own forthcoming fu-neral.

Alexandre Desplat’s music, generally over docu footage, provides a sense of drama at key points. Frears’ decision to shoot the royals’ scenes on 35mm and the Blairs’ on handheld Super-16 — contrasting the formality of the former with the informality of the latter — works far more subtly in practice than it sounds in theory, largely because it’s not overdone by d.p. Affonso Beato (an Almo-dovar regular).

Color in print caught had a slightly muddy quality that actu-ally helps create a sense of “pe-riod” distance, even though that heyday of Cool Britannia was less than 10 years ago.

Popular on Variety

The Queen

U.K.-France-Italy

Production: A Pathe (in U.K.)/Miramax (in U.S.) release of a Pathe Prods., Granada presentation, in association with Pathe Renn Prod., BIM Distribuzione, France 3 Cinema and Canal Plus, of a Granada production. (International sales: Pathe Pictures Intl., London.) Produced by Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward. Executive producers, Francois Ivernel, Cameron McCracken, Scott Rudin. Directed by Stephen Frears. Screenplay, Peter Morgan.

Crew: Camera (color), Affonso Beato; editor, Lucia Zucchetti; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Alan Macdonald; supervising art director, Peter Wenham; art director, Ben Smith; costume designer, Consolata Boyle; hair & makeup designer, Daniel Phillips; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Lindsay; assistant director, Stuart Renfrew; casting, Leo Davis. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 2, 2006. (Also in New York Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Cast: The Queen - Helen Mirren Tony Blair - Michael Sheen Prince Philip - James Cromwell Cherie Blair - Helen McCrory Prince Charles - Alex Jennings Robin Janvrin - Roger Allam Queen Mother - Sylvia Syms Alastair Campbell - Mark Bazeley Portrait artist - Earl Cameron Stephen Lamport - Tim McMullan

More Scene

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Dickinson Premiere

    Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski on What Modern Women Can Learn From Emily Dickinson

    Emily Dickinson lived in the 1800s, but if you ask the team behind Apple TV Plus’ upcoming series, “Dickinson,” her story is more current than ever. Hailee Steinfeld stars in the the modern-day retelling of the poet’s young life. The actress — who makes her first full-time foray into television with the role and also [...]

  • Don Cheadle

    ACLU Bill of Rights Gala to Honor Don Cheadle, Feature Appearances by Selena Gomez, Regina Hall

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California will honor “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Monday” star Don Cheadle at the organization’s annual Bill of Rights dinner on Nov. 17 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Cheadle will be recognized for his activist work as an advocate for racial and gender equality, immigration reform, reproductive and LGBTQ [...]

  • Helen Mirren attends the LA Premiere

    Why Helen Mirren Considers Catherine the Great to Be 'Superhuman'

    It’s no secret that Dame Helen Mirren has a knack for nailing regal roles. Following her Oscar-winning on-screen reign as Queen Elizabeth II back in 2006, the thespian brings yet another powerful ruler to life in HBO’s limited mini-series “Catherine the Great.” Just as she does on the small screen as Russian Empress Catherine II, [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

  • Jessica Biel Limetown Premiere

    Why 'Limetown' Star & Producer Jessica Biel Thought the Show Was Based on a True Story

    In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real. “I just thought I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content