"Uneasy the head that wears the crown" Henry IV, part 2
As the film opens with Helen Mirren posing as the Queen for an official portrait on election day in a flowing purple robe (the color of royalty) adorned with the medals of state, the viewer thinks this will be a remarkable film. When she turns and stares into the camera before it pans away from her face and, with an additional mere twitch and the slightest shift of her neck, imbues herself with the public's perception of Queen Elizabeth II's personality, the viewer knows it will be remarkable.
The film revolves around the events of the week following the Princess of Wales's death on August 31, 1997. Juxtaposed between actual footage of the arrival of Diana's coffin back to England by a jet in the Royal flight (a privilege the Queen did not wish to extend until Charles informs her they can arrange for her to be sent via a commercial flight with an hour stopover in Manchester), images of her life as a royal, and parts of the funeral procession, we see a Queen totally ignorant of the wishes of her subjects for the first time in her reign. Encouraged by her idiotic husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who is portrayed with a hairsbreadth of hating Diana--not to be forgotten is the irony that he is an outsider, himself brought into the bosom of the English royal family as a spouse, yet renders the loudest, most unconscionable opinions about the Princess's life and personality, and many of us can relate to this kind of situation within our own families--the Queen decides to stay at her forty thousand acre estate called Balmoral and keeps both William and Harry in the dark about what's occurring in the country viz-a-viz their motehr's death by removing the radio, television and newspapers from their quarters.
The public begins to turn against the royal family, despising their indifference. We are shown scenes of them talking about deer hunting in the living room over gin-and-tonics while watching montages on television of Diana's life on the television, as well as a scene of Philip and his entourage stalking a magnificent 14 point stag on the moors--the scenes compiled partly as a result of discrete interviews with people 'in the know' and partly from 'informed imagination. It falls on Tony Blair as the newly elected priminister to advise the Queen she is in error and eventually, when the Queen's folly and intransigence becomes ludricous, he compiles a list of things she must do in order to save the monarchy that includes getting her family to London as soon as possible, accepting a state funeral when she wanted it to be private, and actually paying her respects at Diana's coffin in person and flying the royal standard at half mast at every royal residence including Buckingham Palace. The latter has never been done before, and it is all the more galling in that the Queen stripped Diana of her HRH title and thus regards her again as the commoner she once was. One can experience the Queen's abject horror in Mirren's face and by the stiff British upper lip turning slowly upward before our eyes. Moreover, the insult that it is the British Primeminster advising the Queen wounds her psyche deeply, especially when one understands that royal protocol dictates that the charade to be maintained at all times is that it is the Queen who appoints and advises her Primeinister on affairs of state.
A very moving moment occurs in the film when the audience relives emotions experienced on the day of the funeral while listening to a portion of the eulogy given by Diana's brother, though the tears do not remain in our eyes long because this time we can see the Queen's deadpan face as she sits listening in the front pew inside Westminster Abbey. Also, I had the sense that the director may haved inserted a bit of fun for the benefit of British audiences (and those foreigners in the know) by poking oblique fun at Blair's promise to change Britain radically when he came to power, yet ten years down the road there's been no major change at all, the monarchy still survives, and he's become America's poodle.
Like Cherie Blair, I am not disposed favorably toward the monarchy, but having grown up in Northern Ireland where one could not escape the public's appetite and adulation for all things royal, I have had to fight a natural inclination to watch them if they're on television. Mirren is seductive. But then the monarchy is a seductive institution, which is why it survives. The Queen has fought hard to maintain its air of mystery. A shrewd woman, she understood that the elixir of secrecy and mystery is what made their subjects rever both the family and instititution and thus ensured its unquestioned existence by the majority-- though now that the curtain has been pulled open on that world of privelege and familial shenanigans and we see they're not any better than we are and that they have a perverted vision of their 'upper class-ness', it will inevitably lead to their demise--the only question being when, exactly. All in all, a very good film and well worth seeing.
[technorati: Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen, Buckingham Palace, Princess Diana, Helen Mirren, Prince William