God save the queen, indeed.
After the death of Princess Diana, all of London was a public mess. People were crying, leaving beds of flowers, and in a downtrodden depression that hadn’t been since the days of the sudden deaths of John Lennon, or Elvis Presley. However, one person who wasn’t quite as tearful or as upset as the rest of the general public was her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Elizabeth, even though she tried to appreciate Diana for what she was, can’t understand why so many people would be in such a fit over somebody who, to be honest, they didn’t know. Surely, Elizabeth doesn’t get the point of this sadness, which is why she seems to live her life as usual, walking around with her beloved Corgis, appreciating her husband (James Cromwell), and doing what she always does. Except, this is probably not the best thing for Elizabeth to do, what with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) ascending to the office of Prime Minister, creating more tension and hatred for her in the press and among public opinion. Eventually, Elizabeth starts to look at the situation in a different light and realize a little something new about herself, as well as the rest of London.
The Queen is an interesting drama, in that everything about it screams “Oscar-bait”, however, the way in which the movie actually plays out, shows something somewhat different. For one, director Stephen Frears approaches the material, not with an overabundance of metaphors and moments of sheer importance, but with a delicate, attention-paying hand and eye that’s more concerned about these actual few people or so, rather than trying to make some statement about how the Queen’s ideals represent an older way of life, against what Diana represented. Surely, all of this material was probably here for Frears to work with, but because he doesn’t see the need in making his material more heavy-handed than it has any right to be, it plays out a little bit better than it would have, had the Academy been sneering towards his way.
At the same time, however, the Queen is also a movie that doesn’t really do much with itself.
I don’t mean this as a way to say that the movie is boring, as there’s plenty to look at, pay attention to, and think about, even when it seems like there’s hardly anything to look or think about. But what I do mean to say is that the Queen deals with such a small issue, in such a particularly subtle way, that if you aren’t already in love with the Queen, the royal family, or everything that the British Royal stand for the most, then sadly, you’ll be kind of lost. For me, I found it hard to care whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually came to terms with the death and subsequent public outcry of Princess Diana. Most of this has to do with the fact that, well, nothing’s really at-stake here; nobody’s going to be calling for the decapitation of her, there’s not going to be any impeachment, and there will surely be no moment of spiritual awakening.
Everything, as they say, will remain the same. Some things may change, but overall, it will be the same as it always was.
And even though watching as a bunch of British cabinet members run around, talking with one another, and generally looking as serious as can be, may sound like fun to some, it doesn’t always sound as fun to me, especially when there isn’t much to grab at here. Frears does a smart thing in that he doesn’t try to overdo the movie with a heavily-stylized direction, but because of this, the movie can sometimes feel as if it’s just treading along, at its own, meandering pace, where people talk and do things, but really, what does any of it matter? Once again, I know I may be in the minority of saying bad things about this relatively beloved film, but for me, while watching the Queen, it was hard to really get sucked into what was going on, especially when there didn’t seem to be much of anything at-stake, except for people’s own hearts, feelings and self-respect.
To me, that’s only high-stakes drama if we undoubtedly care for the subjects whose hearts, feelings, and self-respect is on the line, and with the Queen, some characters were sympathetic, others were not. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for this here and it makes total sense; not only does she downplay the whole role, but she really gets inside of Queen Elizabeth II’s mind, body and soul, wherein we see here deal with this tragedy in the only way she can – without saying, or doing much at all. And of course, there’s a lot of what Queen Elizabeth II says about the public that’s not only funny, but honest, too, giving us the impression that she’s a lady who doesn’t hold back when expressing her feelings on a certain issue, regardless of whether it’s in-line with public opinion, or not.
This isn’t the kind of performance that tends to win Oscars, which is perhaps why Mirren’s performance is all the more illuminating.
But once again, what’s at stake? According to the movie, it’s everything and anything, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like much. We hear a lot from Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair who, considering that the public loves just about everything he does and says, generally seems to be the voice of reason amidst all of the pain and turmoil, but even he turns into this sappy mess who, seemingly out of nowhere, is breaking into speeches about the Queen, her pride, her courage, and why everybody should stick right up for. Maybe the actual Tony Blair was like this, but it seems to come out of nowhere in a film that paints him in an odd light. Same goes for James Cromwell’s Prince Philip, who seems more concerned about his stag, and less about anything else that’s going on.
Once again, maybe this is how the real people, but it still doesn’t grab me even more and make me actually give a flyin’ hoot.
Consensus: Though the direction and performances are much smaller than you’d expect from the typical, awards-friendly fare that the Queen exists in, there’s still not enough to make someone who generally doesn’t care about subjects such as these, actually start doing that.
6 / 10