Glibly, I can say the most amazing thing The Queen does is humanize Tony Blair, seeing as he’s been decency’s biggest quisling in recent memory. But seeing a sympathetic portrayal of politician–one still in power when a film is released–is uncommon. Michael Sheen really creates a Tony Blair, certainly a Tony Blair one wishes the real person measured up to. And royalty is often sympathetically portrayed, just not modern royalty, which is where The Queen becomes rare. I had assumed the screenwriter adapted a book, something with some non-reporter-like confirmation (apparently, the screenwriter got independent confirmations of specific facts)… because The Queen then becomes a fictionalization of a real person, but a fiction striving for truth… is a truly exceptional attempt for a work.
I watched this film with tears in my eyes for much of it, because it made me privy to something private. An autobiography isn’t private, it’s published. I don’t like considering the impetus behind a film’s creation–it’s money, almost always, unless the film’s really cheap (and then it’s usually the desire for future money)–but this film mustn’t have easy to make in that regard and–I’m losing my train of thought. My film review vocabulary isn’t geared for admiring people’s intentions. Anyway.
Superficially glibly… James Cromwell. Cromwell’s been a ham for a good ten years or so. The Queen really rescues him from it. The role lends itself to ham and he doesn’t do it. Alex Jennings is also excellent as Charles. Some of The Queen‘s easy effectiveness comes from the majority of the characters being privately conflicted, unable to release it. Sheen acts as a bit of a release valve, getting to vocalize frustration, which the other main characters cannot do.
As for Mirren–being disinterested in the history of the Windsors, my fiancée proved invaluable in explaining certain details to me (the film would work just fine without the knowledge, of course)–but I did find it odd, back when I heard about the film, the quintessential British female actor (from the American perspective anyway) playing the quintessential British female. I assumed it would be an easy fit, but Mirren–a little differently from Sheen’s Blair, since Blair isn’t a world figure in the same way–creates the Queen. Through her interactions with her staff, from assistant to groundskeeper, Mirren gradually establishes more than a visible humanity, but really makes the audience understand more her feelings than the response to her actions.
In terms of handling–storytelling handling–if The Queen were an absolutely fictional piece, it’d be good but not revolutionary. It’s a somewhat standard structure, two main threads, one secondary one, but, again, the subject matter and the handling of it–I love the scenes Frears cuts a little short, in the middle of dialogue, when the Queen ceases listening and then so too must the audience–makes the film a particular achievement. Oddly, the only other thing I can think of to even compare this film to is… Bubba Ho-Tep, but whereas that film brought deep feeling to the fictionalized life of a real person, The Queen brings it to the real life of a real person. It’s really something.
Directed by Stephen Frears; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lucia Zucchetti; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Alan Macdonald; produced by Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward and Andy Harries; released by Miramax Films.
Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Michael Sheen (Tony Blair), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Sylvia Syms (the Queen Mother), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles), Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair), Roger Allam (Sir Robin Janvrin) and Tim McMullan (Stephen Lamport).