Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Queen

Laudatory reviews in the weekend papers; Helen Mirren is a National Treasure; and she won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival: so therefore, a Must See.


The film has been wildly overpraised. It’s not bad; it’s just that it’s not very good. I think an interesting opportunity has been missed.

Mirren’s performance is a curate’s egg – I didn’t appreciate some of the more over-emphasised physical mannerisms (the walk), but she does deserve credit for imbuing the character with some interior life and complexity, despite the script. Her supporting cast of royals are a bunch of gurning gargoyles: hideous caricatures, the lot of them. Poor Charles fares especially badly.

The script rehearses the well-known events between Diana’s death and her funeral. Nothing new is revealed, it’s just imaginatively dressed up and dramatised.

The high point is the use of television footage intercut with the fictional recreation. In particular, the flashbacks of Diana are stunningly well integrated. Despite being almost a decade dead, her presence completely electrifies the screen whenever she appears. I think this angle could have been pursued more deeply: the mythological scale of her fame; the media hysteria; the New Labour spin machine attempting to engage with Royal presentational traditions. If the film attempted a more serious examination of these themes instead of focussing on the pedestrian televisual dramatisation of events, I think it could have done something quite interesting and profound.

Aspects of what could have been can be seen in Frears’ direction of the car crash sequence, intercut as it is with episodes from Diana’s career as a paparazzi target – totally brilliant – and also the funeral service, skilfully interwoven with the real Earl Spencer’s speech. I also very much enjoyed the sequence where the Queen takes Tony’s call in her Balmoral kitchens (crowds and crowds and crowds of startled flunkeys hastily try to accommodate her) as well as her return to Buckingham Palace to confront the hostile public and their venomous messages on the floral offerings. Totally bathetic is a sequence with the Queen confronting a stag on her Estate. Exactly what was not needed. But I suppose the decision had been taken that this was a Mirren vehicle.

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