1 hour, 37 minutes
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.
for brief strong language
DVD Features: Feature-length commentary from director Stephen Frears, screenwriter Peter Morgan, and British historian Robert Lacey, author of "Majesty"; a "Making of The Queen" featurette.
The film begins just days before Princess Diana's fatal car crash in 1997, when the princess, seen only in television news clips and photographs, had become a jet-setting divorcée purused by paparazzi. The rest of the film focuses on Elizabeth (Helen Mirren following her emmy-winning performance as "Elizabeth I") and her relationship with the newly elected prime minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen "Underworld: Evolution"). There are also a host of secondary players that surround them in this comedy-drama that takes place during the seven days beginning with Diana's untimely death.
A creature of history and ritual, Elizabeth might have been born in another century (or on another planet), a point on which screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Last King of Scotland”) constructs his story and that director Stephen Frears ("My Beautiful Launderette") illustrates with amazing attention to visual detail. Much of the movie takes place in and around Buckingham Palace and demonstrates the rigid formality that defines the Queen's life. The awe and the boobishness of the characters surrounding the Queen at the palace help to make it clear why she behaves as she does. They include James Cromwell ("Babe") as the rather dim-witted Prince Philip, Sylvia Syms ("Victim"), as the Queen Mother with her martini in hand, Alex Jennings ("The Wings of the Dove ") as the sniveling and sly Prince Charles, and Roger Allam ("V for Vendetta") as Sir Robin Janvrin, the Queen's private secretary. Across town the newly installed prime minister Tony Blair, played by the perfectly cast Michael Sheen is introduced just after his landslide victory following 18 years of Margaret Thatcher, as he gently attempts to guide the baffled Queen, who's totally unable to understand what all the fuss is about. While Blair makes the most of Diana’s death, his his anti-monarchist wife (Helen McCrory "The Count of Monte Cristo") casts an increasingly leery eye at his performance of grief.
After Prince Charles brings Diana’s body back from Paris, the queen retreats to Balmoral, her Scottish summer estate, with her entourage including her grandsons without making any comment, not a hair on her tightly coiffed head out of place. Her stubborn quiet only fuels the clamorous sorrow of the public, which lays thousands of bouquets around the entrance to Buckingham Palace. This demonstration of the country's feelings turn into a veritable barricade of the palace as the mourning continues and the Queen resists any comment. The ensuing crisis of confidence solidifies Blair’s power.
As Elizabeth strides around Balmoral in tweeds and sensible shoes, back in London Blair undergoes a metamorphosis of his own, becoming the official voice of healing. There is something appealingly puppyish about the prime minister’s buzzing activity as the crisis builds, and while Elizabeth’s authority is more ceremonial than actual, she and he play their parts as the situation continues to escalate for an extremely tense week. Finally Blair informs the Queen that polls are saying that things are so dire that one in four of her subjects are in favor of ending the monarchy.
Helen Mirren is simply magnificent as the woman beneath the Kabuki-like facade. Her slow-dawning realization of the cultural shift that had already changed the country is beautifully realized, though not because the actress and her director mistake the queen’s intelligence for sentiment. Elizabeth no more likes Diana after death than before. But when the queen does break her silence, as we know she will, having watched it on television, it isn’t because of this vexing young woman. It’s because Elizabeth, standing alone in the spectacular Scottish countryside finally begins to understand not only the implications of the moment but what she must do. This is a beautifully written and expertly played, engrossing and ultimately moving film and a performance that you won't want to miss.
Helen Mirren ... HM Queen Elizabeth II
Michael Sheen ... Tony Blair
James Cromwell ... Prince Philip
Sylvia Syms ... HM The Queen Mother
Alex Jennings ... Prince Charles
Helen McCrory ... Cherie Blair