05 February 2007
  the queen

michael sheen, playing p.m. tony blair, has this monologue at the end of the queen where he argues with his anti-monarchist wife, telling her that queen elizabeth has admirably devoted her entire life to great britain and even if she has made some mistakes along the way, she gave up 50 years to do a job that ultimately killed her own father and she did it with grace and dignity and honor. it is strange that a movie which has this as its ultimate message made me strongly oppose the british monarchy.

throughout the queen is this ongoing debate about the monarchy. on the one hand, elizabeth and her court argue that the traditions of the monarchy have sustained their empire for centuries, and nothing must change, for the breakdown of tradition may propel the breakdown of the entire kingdom. on the other hand, blair and his parliament/wife argue that the monarchy is an anachronism, keeping the island nation in the dark ages and prohibiting its citizens from fully engaging with the rest of the modern world. in the end, the film attempts to reaffirm the role of the queen, showing that she does have an important role to fulfill, one which has not yet become outmoded. however, (unfortunately?) the movie actually communicated the opposite message to me. it shows how completely out of touch with the people of her country queen elizabeth has become and how much the u.k. needs a dramatic, democratic shift in the 21st century.

the queen is the story of the relationship between queen elizabeth, tony blair, the press and the british populace in the week following the death of princess di in 1997. after diana dies in a paparrazzi-led car crash in paris, the queen takes the princess' children to her country estate at balmoral to mourn. as the entire country, led in the press by new prime minister tony blair, publicly laments the beloved princess' passing, the queen appears emotionless, making no public statement about the death, refusing to fly the flag above buckingham palace at half staff and choosing a private funeral, all in the name of tradition. the press attacks hrh and it is only with the help of blair that she manages to survive the scandal.

although the movie really strives to show that there is a point to the traditions the queen rigidly adheres to, for some reason i wasn't persuaded. the whole thing seemed, in the end, pointless. on the one hand, i admire elizabeth for sticking to her convictions in spite of absolutely vitriolic treatment by the press, on the other hand, i think that those convictions were arbitrary and nonsensical. would it really have hurt the british empire if she had simply agreed to fly the palace flag at half staff? blair, i think, would argue *yes.* any deviation from the tradition that had sustained the nation could have detrimental affects.

for me, all i saw was a decadent woman and her bourgeoise family going off to the country to sip tea and cocktails and bitch about how unfairly they were being treated for five days while the population of their country was collectively reeling from tragedy. rather than leading her country through their grief, she chose to ignore and belittle their emotions, holding her own LACK of emotions as a paradigm of englishness to which all great britons should strive. at no point in the queen did i think that this woman was doing anything of benefit for her country. she was just feeding off of it. mrs. blair was right all along.

however, none of this was my biggest problem with the story. as an admirer of princess di, both the philanthropist and the celebrity, i was completely shocked at how anti-diana this movie was. considering that this is the first dramatic movie ever made about the princess, in some ways i think it is almost socially irresponsible to treat her so badly. the queen shows diana as a two-faced traitor who traded obedience to her nation for international celebrity. elizabeth hated diana, not because the queen was jealous or intolerant, but because the princess was insidious and damaging to the monarchy. in the end of the movie, i came to feel: maybe great britain could use more modern thinking people-oriented leaders like diana and less traditionalist, elitist leaders like the queen.

all this being said, frear's film is without a doubt a good one. helen mirren's acclaim is well deserved, even though the role isn't really my cup of tea. i mean, she seems to do a dead on (although not caricatur-ey) portrayal of queen elizabeth, but, as one would expect in a role like this, she doesn't really show much range or depth. all in all, i found it a brilliant but boring performance, if that is possible. the film itself often infuriated me, but it was certainly well done. i guess it showed me that i don't necessarily have to agree with a work of art's message in order to appreciate it. not my favorite film to come out this year, but certainly worthy of the acclaim it has garnered over the past few months.

the high point of the queen, for me, was michael sheen in the role of tony blair. whereas mirren gives kind of a one note performance in the lead female role, sheen offers a brilliantly nuanced, deep, complicated performance in the lead male role. this is more my kind of acting. it is maybe, in my estimation, the greatest male performance given this year, and his scenes are by far the most captivating.
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