3 Stars – Thoughtful
Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, is an enigma to many Americans. She represents the grace and dignity of one of the oldest monarchies in the world with a kind of grandmotherly presence that gives people a sense of comfort. Even though the American “democratic experiment” had its birth in a disagreement with King George of England in the 18th century, there has always been a fascination with the trappings of one of the most powerful and enduring kingdoms in history.
In our fast-paced world with its mass media and economic globalization, the British system seems like a throwback to another time - a kind of living historical diorama. In the film “The Queen” we are taken into the private lives of the royal family and are given a sense of how they respond to the trials and tribulations that affect them. In this case, circumstances force Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (played by Helen Mirren who deserves an Oscar for this part) to respond to the death of her former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana.
At the time of Princess Diana’s death, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the new young Prime Minister of England, tries to walk a narrow path between the modern world that he represents and the cloistered world of the royal family. Every word said by either party is subject to intense review. For those of us who watched this tragic drama unfold in 1997, we witnessed an outpouring of grief and sympathy worldwide that extended far beyond the borders of England. The world loved Diana and, in the words of Tony Blair, she had become “the peoples’ princess.
Within the walls of Buckingham Palace the feelings were far more complex. The royal family harbored ill feelings towards their former daughter-in-law. They believed Diana had soiled the reputation of the monarchy. In this portrayal, Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) is a weak and subservient son that could not stand up to his mother, and the entire family comes off as cold and calculating, even though they may have believed they were acting appropriately to protect the dignity of their family.
We see Queen Elizabeth II struggle with the reactions of the public in a very personal way. At one point, Tony Blair pleads with her to make a public statement when the public polls show that one fourth of the citizens of England are ready to abolish the monarchy. In that moment, fear is not her response. Instead, the weight of 1,000 years of tradition confronts her. The House of Windsor could end by her lack of compassion.
Since this is an historical drama rather than a speculative fiction, there isn’t a plot or story that will unveil some new clue as to what happened to Princess Diana. On the other hand, this view into the lives of “the royals” is fascinating and one that will raise both feelings of sympathy and sadness. Theirs is not a fairytale life. If anything, it is a kind of house arrest with lots of servants. “The Queen” reminds us to be careful what you wish for when you want to “live like a queen.”
- There are several monarchies throughout the world. Do you believe they are helpful in the modern world or harmful? What do you think about the British Monarchy?
- The pressure of a nation and its historical pride is placed upon Queen ElizabethII’s family. Additionally, such a public life has make the family’s private sorrow surrounding their divorces and deaths public events. Would you want to be a part of that family? Why or why not?
- The difficulty for Prince Charles is apparent now that we understand he was in love with another woman but married Diana instead. What would you have done if you were Diana? If you were Prince Charles?
- There is a vast difference between the fantasized lives we may have about the rich and famous and the reality of their lives. What does a film like this do to you and your fantasies?