The Queen

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Diamond Jubilee

Released: 2006
Director: Stephen Frears

Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen

A superb look back at a week of madness


When history looks back at the House of Windsor there will be a number of defining moments. The creation of the Windsor name, the abdication crisis, the coronation of the young, beautiful queen, this Diamond Jubilee celebration and of course the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I’m fairly confident that everyone of my generation will remember what they were doing when they heard the news of Diana’s death – and the mad week that followed. I was a fan of Diana, she was a fairytale Princess in my eyes and I was enchanted by her from day one, but by the end of that September week in 1997 all that I could hear in my head was ‘Oh what a circus’ from Evita. Who knows what the kerfuffle felt like from inside the Royal Family?

Stephen Frears’ 2006 film The Queen looks at the week that shook the monarchy. But didn’t, as feared at the time, destabilise it. In May 1997 The Queen (played by Helen Mirren) invited Tony Blair to become her 10th Prime Minister following Labour’s landslide election victory. The new leader has made clear his wish to modernise the country including removing the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. The contrast between the reforming zeal of the Prime Minister and the conservative nature of the Establishment is brought into sharp focus with the death of Diana. The Queen’s instinct is to remain at Balmoral with her grieving grandsons and to downplay the death of Diana, who was after all no longer a member of the Royal Family. Blair and his advisors, particularly Alistair Campbell, correctly sense that the famous Windsor stoicism will not be accepted by a grieving public. As the week continues the mood grows dark and there appears to be a genuine threat to the future of the Monarchy.

The strength of The Queen lies in its powerhouse performances. Helen Mirren rightly won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen. She encapsulates the various facets of character needed. Strength, concern for her grandchildren, certainty that she knows her people and fear when she realises that she has misjudged their feelings. It would be unfair on the rest of the cast though to call The Queen a one-woman show. Michael Sheen is great as Blair, although he infuses him with a Bambiesque naivete that I’m unsure that he ever possessed. The portrayal, good as it is, is kind to Blair in a way that I’m not sure that he deserves. James Cromwell is in good form as the Duke of Edinburgh and Helen McCrory as the republican Cherie Blair is also very good. I must give a special mention to Roger Allam as the Queen’s private secretary Robin Janvrin (although Janvrin didn’t take up this role until 1999). Allam is one of those actors who pops up in lots of things but never seems to be recognised for the brilliant performer that he is – I hope that changes soon.

At times the script is clunky with clichés which, were it not for the strengths of the performances, would drag the film down. One scene shows Blair in a Newcastle strip with Blair and 10 on the back – I have no doubts that he was given such a top on his travels, but would he really have been crass enough to wear it? We are smacked over the head several times with symbolism – the Queen’s car not making it across a river and the majestic stag being hunted down on the Balmoral Estate. Peter Morgan perhaps tried a little too hard to make his point.

It’s hard now to watch The Queen without the benefit of hindsight – we know that the monarchy has survived and is now more popular than before Diana died. We know that the Queen is held in high esteem by the vast majority of her subjects, even those who don’t particularly care for the hereditary principle and we know that Blair is no longer the innocent ingénue portrayed here. It remains though a hugely enjoyable film and a fair representation of the temporary madness that overtook the nation.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< The Diamond QueenThe Queen and I >>
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