Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jenninghttps://youtu.be/mqL42sjb96Is, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms
Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Helen Mirren)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Frears), Best Original Screenplay (Peter Morgan), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Costume Design (Consolata Boyle)
SUMMARY: In Great Britain in 1997, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) has just won the election as the new Prime Minister. As the first Labour prime minister in some time, Blair is expected to reform the government, which does not sit well with members of the r oyal family, particularly Prince Philip (James Cromwell) and Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren). However, the royals are also preoccupied with the antics of Princess Diana. it is clear that the Queen and Prince Philip are not fond of Diana, and this attitude has only intensified since her divorce from Prince Charles, and subsequent slamming of the royal family in the press. Only a few months after Blair’s election, Diana is killed in a car accident in Paris. The Queen decides not to show any public reaction, instead focusing on the well-being of her grandsons (Princes William and Harry). However, Blair realizes that the public is enamored of Diana, and is devastated by her death. Against the wishes of the Queen, he makes a statement in which he calls Diana the “people’s princess”. This name certainly rings true, as British citizens begin leaving flowers, tokens and cards at the gate of Buckingham and Kensington Palaces. However, neither the royal family nor Diana is at either of the palaces: the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and his sons are all at Balmoral Castle, where they spend their summers. The Queen believes that as Diana is no longer an official member of the royal family, no public action should be taken by them — and that Diana should not receive a state funeral. Prince Charles openly argues this, telling his mother that Diana was still the mother of the future King of England. he is also disappointed by the news that the flag at Buckingham Palace is not flying at half-mast, as are most of the other people in Britain. In this, the Queen is actually maintaining precedent: as the flag is actually a royal standard, it is only flown to indicate the presence of the Queen; it has never been flown at half-mast in Britain’s history.
As the days pass and the Queen still does not make any public statement or appearance, opinion begins to turn against her. Blair does his best to counteract this, which increases his own popularity, but does not distract from the real problem. However, as he spends more time with the Queen, Blair starts to understand the reasoning behind her decisions. He also sees that although her role is secure, the Queen is very concerned with public opinion and the overall health of her people. As someone who was a teenager during World War II, the Queen developed an attitude of stoicism and the traditional “stiff upper lip”, believing that it was more dignified and proper (as well as respected) to not show emotion in public. As he points out, she also watched as the job of monarch essentially killed her father, George VI. She accepts that her position is a duty, and that that duty is an incredibly serious one. Though his advisors and wife mock the Queen and her lack of emotion, Blair begins to sympathize with her. However, he believes that she will have to make some concessions to regain public opinion. He convinces her to fly the flag at half-mast, allow Diana’s funeral to be public (and attend it), and make a public statement about the loss of Diana. The Queen is against all three of these measures, but as she sees more and more derogatory headlines and news reports, she realizes that for the good of the country, she must change her ways. The entire family returns to London, where the Queen publicly inspects the memorials in front of Buckingham Palace. The messages on these, most of which are pro-Diana and anti-Windsor, affirm the Queen’s belief that she must go against tradition. She does fly the flag at half-mast, attends the funeral, and delivers a moving, laudatory television address about Diana. Two months later, the furor has died down: the Queen has regained her popularity, but believes that her image will always be tarnished by her reaction to Diana’s death. Blair is enjoying immense popularity himself, but the Queen warns him that it is fleeting. She notes that the customs and people of Britain have changed, and the monarchy must change and adapt with the, or become obsolete.
MY TAKE: I’ve noticed that a number of films on this list require more than one viewing to truly appreciate, particularly if the films were first watched at a young age. This is one of those movies: the first time I watched it, I thought it was really boring, and the Queen acted like a jerk. My opinion completely changed with the second viewing. It’s still not a terribly active film, but the drama comes in watching the Queen try to figure out how to handle the situation — and understanding her reasoning. On the surface, it does seem like she acted like a jerk, and obviously, the British people had pretty much the same opinion. However, the repeated viewing caused the same effect in me that Tony Blair had: I realized why she was making her decisions, and how hard the entire situation was for her. Essentially, it’s a struggle of the old way versus the new way. As mentioned, it’s clear that Elizabeth was very affected by WWII, and this determined how she handles emotions and conflicts. At the time, the people wanted their leader to be stoic and strong: Winston Churchill acted much the same way (as evidenced by his “We Will Never Surrender” speech). However, by 1997, this was no longer the way the British people reacted to tragedy; instead, they publicly grieved, and wanted their leaders to do the same. The Queen failed to recognize this, and even after it was brought to her attention, she didn’t understand it. The remarkable thing, both to Blair and myself, is that she did it anyway. She considered her duty to be the well-being of her people, and even when she didn’t agree or understand, she acted in their best interests. She also realized and accepted that times were changing, and that she needed to change with it. I have to admire someone who can put aside such strong personal convictions for the good of the masses, and it’s refreshing to see a monarch that is so concerned with the needs of her people. Helen Mirren absolutely deserved the Oscar, as she absolutely becomes the Queen.
RATING: Exceptional; moving in an understated way.