The Queen (2006)
Stephen Frears wants to take a look behind the veil, and delve into the private life of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor in this contemporary period piece (a contradiction in terms, I know). The film centres around the week succeeding the death of the Princess of Wales, and how the matter is handled by the public, by the new government lead by fresh prime minister Tony Blair, and, more specifically, by the monarchy.
Thematically, Frears' film is quite narrow, albeit never shallow. The film has its strength in portraying and discussing the position of the British monarchy seen in a contemporary perspective. To a great extent, Frears suggests not only that the crown is about to become outdated, but also that the queen ultimately concedes this. Helen Mirren's performance is the film's greatest asset. Her constrained, inexpressive surface conceals abundance of passion and patriotism. The way Mirren is able to pinpoint this is vital to the film's effect. Still, to say that we get under the skin of Her Majesty is to exaggerate it. For all the knowledge Peter Morgan unveils with this script, he hasn't (and isn't expected to have) access to the thoughts of the woman he wants to depict intimately. The film is by all accounts fairly accurate, but still indicative; there can only be so much to tell and so much to reveal about a situation about which the available information is as limited as this.
The relation between the Queen and Tony Blair is presented in an ultimately somewhat romanticized manner. The latter is, throughout the entire film, presented in an almost uncritically good light (although Frears predicates the change in his popularity through the Mirren character). As portrayed by a well-cast Michael Sheen, Blair is both the brilliant tactician, politician and humanitarian that grasps the situation better than any of the advisors of either the palace or the government. Perhaps Frears is doing Blair the same favour with this film that Blair did for the Queen during that week after the death of Diana?
The Queen is an economically effective movie. It's intention is clear-cut, uncomplicated, politically correct and balanced. At its best, the film is moving and important, but more often it remains in the mode of amusing or simply concise. Artistically, the film suffers from a direction that is too anonymous to revel beyond Mirren's brilliant performance.