The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, purports to show us a crisis in the British monarchy when Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997. The crisis is not, however, with the monarchy, but with the monarch, Queen Elizabeth, played with great depth of feeling by Helen Mirren. Diana, to the Queen, is an ex-daughter-in-law; the mother of the heir to the throne, to be sure, but unmissed as an individual personality. The Queen proceeds in the wake of Diana's death as if the personal Diana that she knew is the only one that matters. Her miscalculation leads her to discover that, horror of horrors, she is out of touch with her subjects, and she therefore must change. She listens to the advice of the new Labor Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and commemorates the public face of the "people's princess." Crisis averted.
It may seem odd to note that Mirren plays the role feelingly, but it is not, because the Queen's feelings are at the heart of this very clever, very entertaining film. For whom does the Queen love but her people? It's clear from the outset that her marriage is now a ceremonial matter; James Cromwell adroitly captures Prince Philip's impatience and distance from actual matters of state, although it's always been my impression that Philip is even more of a boor than Cromwell plays him. The Queen's son and heir, Charles, has the temerity to presume that he may take The Queen's Flight to Paris to retrieve the body of his ex-wife. Alex Jennings, although given often to a Bertie Woosterish grimace, demonstrates Charles as a man who is essentially soft of heart.
But the Queen is not. The only one who sees her way in things is "Mummy," as she calls The Queen Mother. Mummy counsels that the stiff upper lip is best. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is a woman who will do anything to keep the love she needs. She returns to London from Balmoral (lovely Scottish scenery in those scenes) and, amazingly, gets out of the car in front of Buckingham Palace to read the tributes to Diana and greet the crowd. This is just not done, as they say, but do it she does, and regains the admiration of her subjects -- which is what she wants.
Tony Blair, a perky Michael Sheen, presumes that the Queen listened to him because she thought highly of his advice. Not really. It was the advice she needed, and for it she owes him nothing. Her power, which Mirren acts subtly and convincingly, is derived from God, hence the divine right of kings. Yes, in this day it may sound a bit daft, but it doesn't matter if you or I believe in it. Elizabeth does, as does Mummy, and this is the reason for her lifelong dedication, meaning in this context that she has given her life to her people until she dies, not that she'll do a nice job and retire to Scotland someday.
An especially moving scene takes place in Scotland when the Queen, driving like a dynamo through a river, hits a rock and disables her Land Rover (interesting and not surprising that she can tell the gamekeeper she phones exactly which part is broken). She fumes for a minute, then relaxes and appreciates the beauty of the natural landscape around her. Tears fall -- probably not for Diana, perhaps for the frustration and loneliness of her role, which is the same as her life. A beautiful stag appears, one that Prince Philip has talked of bagging, and the Queen is transfixed by the handsomeness of the creature. When the stag next appears, he galvanizes the Queen into action. The scenes and the metaphor are beautifully done.
The pomp and ceremony of British royalty are interestingly rendered, as is the immediate post-Diana climate. There is rather too much television news footage to provide context and mood. Overall, however, this is a fine film, and one for which Helen Mirren may indeed receive an Academy Award nomination. Although one does not expect the stiff upper lip to win, as Best Actress is usually rather more given to an hysterical role.