Monday, January 14, 2008

The Queen

Sir Paul McCartney
And another Beatles quote might be appropriate here, as well. George Harrison's horrified appraisal of Beatlemania: "We gave them an excuse to go mad." Surely that's how the Royals must have felt seeing the outpouring of grief generated by the death of former Princess Diana over the week that this smart bitchy little film covers. The tone and volume of the crowds that surrounded Buckingham Palace, fueled by the predatory tabloids, approached hysteria and went well past the accepted levels of decorum practiced by its inhabitants. Flying the flag at half-mast for Diana? They hadn't even done it for the death of the King! The idea! There's a telling line QEII says in bewilderment: "But she isn't even an H.R.H.!"--a lovely combination of formality and informality within the Royal Family. But the film has its own opening quote, from Shakespeare--the one half-mocked by Jack Nicholson in "The Departed"--"Uneasy lies the head...etc, etc." But, in this day and age it can be asked, "Who wears the crown?"

Is it the Queen, cosseted in formal procedure and pomp, restricted in her powers and budgeted by the government (the first scene of the movie has an arch little discussion between her and a portrait artist regarding democracy and the in-coming Labor party of Tony Blair. "You might not be allowed to vote, ma'am,* but it is your government." " is," she replies, smiling at the constancy)? Is it the fledgling Prime Minister Tony Blair who must bow and scrape to the Queen, but who uses whatever power he has to influence her actions? Is it Blair's eager-beaver, though cynical, staff, micro-managing and creating press-releases and agendas that sometimes frustrate, while bolstering the image of, the new PM? The Queen's consort, Prince Phillip, blusters about what is proper and how he'd do things (assuming he was in charge), and son Charles, dithering and defferential (there's a lovely moment as Charles enters a room where James Cromwell, playing Phillip--pointedly crosses his arms without even acknowledging that he knows his son is in the room), tries to sway the Queen emotionally and by proxies. Or is it the rabble with their devastated faces and the endless supply of flowers that becomes a memorial and a substitute for any public display from official sources?

Then there is the late Princess herself, seen only in vintage news footage, at times clowning, at times vulnerable...and at times, with a look like she's viewing the proceeding with a knowing satisfaction.

One wonders how the Royals themseleves would see this film** doubt, as an affront to be taken in stoic, stony silence. Yet, one can understand their actions, and even have some sympathy for their dilemma, while also wanting to shake some sense into them.

"The Queen" is a fine, gossipy movie, with a literate script***(whether any of the things depicted behind closed draw-bridges is anyone's guess) by Peter Morgan--he also wrote last year's "The Last King of Scotland.", top-of-the-line performances led by Helen Mirren (who has the canny knowledge to know she's playing two roles: Elizabeth and an eerie "Elizabeth-as-Monarch," and, yes, she'll win the Oscar for Best Actress) and a direction by Stephen Frears that's smart and canny. The last shot is the most telling. Frears leaves us with an image of the Queen walking in her immaculate formal garden--her unruly Pomeranian dogs jumping and bouncing and using the facilities while Elizabeth pays no mind to the chaos.

Long Live the Queen.

"The Queen" is a fine, blue-haired matinee movie.

* And make sure you pronounce that correctly. We're told that it is "Ma'am" as in "ham," not as in "harm." One of the conceits of the film is to show the "accepted" ways to present oneself to the Queen--always a prescribed way, no more and no less--surely a main reason for the atrophy the Windsors displayed in not responding to the public's reaction.

**I read somewhere in the Golden Globes coverage this morning that the Queen told Mirren "someone finally got (playing her) right."

***There's a funny scene where Blair, flush with his efforts to influence the situation starts to push for his own agenda. Elizabeth will have none of it, and warns her PM not to be too complacent for his crisis will come when he least expects it. It took every ounce of restraint to keep from yelling "Yo, Blair!" at the screen.

Post-script 02/07/07: Slate has quite an informative interview with director Stephen Frears

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