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THE QUEEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms
Director:  Stephen Frears
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  See Review
Length:  103 Minutes
Release Date:  April 24, 2007

“Will someone please save these people from themselves?”

Film ****

The Queen was one of 2006’s most heralded movies, and not just because of Helen Mirren’s Oscar winning performance in the title role.  It’s also because it’s a sublimely entertaining film, filled with warmth, humor and emotion, and because it takes us intimately into a world many of us have never imagined.

That world is the world of British royalty and Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) has reigned for decades.  Or sort of…Britain has a Prime Minister, of course, and as the movie opens, that job has just gone to Tony Blair (Sheen).  What exactly is the relationship?  Well, Tony sort of manages the government for the royal family, who don’t seem to have much to say about day-to-day dealings.  However, by virtue of their blood, they are figures that always seem to fascinate and intrigue the rest of us commoners around the world.

Blair isn’t in the job very long before he’s faced with his first national tragedy:  the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed in France.  Apart from the sadness of the event, her death brings unusual political dilemma as well:  namely, there was no protocol for how to handle the death of an ex-member of the Royal family.

As the world mourns, the dutiful queen wants to honor the wishes of Diana’s family for a private funeral, but her choice, as well as the decision not to return from her Scottish retreat to the palace doesn’t sit well with most of England.  Her decision was made in order to shield her grandsons, the Princes Harry and William, from the same kind of media hounding that led to Diana’s death.

And the young eager Blair finds himself caught in a public relations nightmare; feeling the peoples’ need to have their queen acknowledge and respond to the passing of the princess and the queen’s sense of duty to her family and to the throne she’s held for so long and what it means.

In some ways, it’s like a chess game where you don’t want to see anyone lose.  Blair in the movie, as he remains in real life, is a charming, charismatic politician with eloquence and sensitivity.  But the queen herself, as portrayed by Mirren, is not some enigmatic figurehead, but rather a complex, deep and thoughtful character, both as a woman and a monarch. 

Both Mirren and Sheen give remarkable, historically accurate and intimate performances, creating for the audience characters that are real and true, and not just some talking heads on our 24 hour news channel.  And director Stephen Frears has crafted a picture that finds the right balance between pomp and truth, between image and reality.  For those of us in America who love our friends in Britain but have little understanding of the last truly great monarchy in the West, the film is one surprising and entertaining revelation after another.

We still have Queen Elizabeth II, and we still have Tony Blair.  After seeing this movie, I’d love to be a fly on the wall and listen in on their weekly meetings together.  There’s probably enough to fill many volumes over.  Considering the awkward Charles is next in line for the throne, and no one knows if Britain will ever produce another Prime Minister with the resolve of Blair, we may spend the future looking back wistfully on these years as the best of times for our great ally. 

Video ****

The colors on this anamorphic presentation are all bold and striking, and not just the red white and blue of the Union Jack.  For such a contemporary story, Frears brings a great sense of composition and subtle style to his work.  Images are sharp and clear throughout and I noticed no grain or artifacts to interfere.

Audio ***

It’s mostly a dialogue oriented film, but even so, the 5.1 audio is more than serviceable, with a few larger crowd scenes that give it extra depth and ambience.

Features ***1/2

There are a pair of good commentary tracks on the disc:  one is with director Frears and writer Peter Morgan, which delves into the construction of the film, and the other is with British historian Robert Lacey, which might be the better of the two, as he delves into the inner workings of the royal family and British government.  There is also a decent making-of featurette.

Summary:

All hail The Queen.  This is truly one of last year’s best offerings and most entertaining as well.  Kudos to Helen Mirren for taking British royalty and bringing Hollywood gold to her.

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