Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning performance
When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is mentioned in the media, I often don’t see the real woman but instead visualise Helen Mirren playing the Queen in the film of the same name. It’s a big risk for an actor to take on the challenge of playing someone who is alive and so famous but Mirren’s gamble absolutely paid off, and she won an Oscar for the role. And a solid cast supports her throughout, with James Cromwell as Prince Philip, Michael Sheen as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair. (In my opinion, the only actor who lets down the team is Alex Jennings as Prince Charles.)
The fascinating real-life subject matter
The drama focuses squarely on the Queen and those around her in the period immediately after the death of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. What is most obvious is the Queen’s surprise at just how much her constituents made it clear they loved Diana, who was by then estranged from the Royal family, and the Queen’s resultant inner struggle with the realisation that perhaps she is out of touch with her constituents and the old ways may no longer be relevant. Playing into her doubts is the defeat of the Tory Government and the arrival of the smiling, recently-elected Tony Blair, with his youthful demeanour and fresh ideas.
The deep human emotions on display
The Queen is also an almost perfectly executed study of human emotion and this adds significantly to its distinctiveness and appeal. It is a joy to see the confusion, exasperation, uncertainty, and every other feeling under the sun, flit across the faces of the characters. And deeply understanding that the ‘characters’ are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances makes you feel closer to them.
Every scene is strong
I’d go so far as to say not one moment is superfluous in this film and scriptwriter Peter Morgan, director Stephen Frears and everyone else on the creative team deserves credit for this.
Re-examine the inexplicable
I was one of the millions around the world who got very upset at the death of Diana in 1997 in a car crash in Paris (coincidentally on my own birthday). This reaction was so inexplicable that it made me feel like a bit of a goose. It is fascinating and kind of comforting to go back and re-examine the public outpouring of grief through the prism of this brilliant film. I still have questions, though. Did the empathy for Diana erupt because she was an innocent done over by the all-powerful establishment, or by the thoughtless actions of a man who didn’t love her? Or was it all just an excuse for a damn good cry?
We’ll never be Royals
And let’s face it, there’s something exceptionally absurd about the rules of engagement around the Royal family, something chilling about witnessing the coldness within the family and something delightfully peeping tom about seeing the Queen and Prince Philip in their bedroom.