Judge Brett Cullum warns you not to confuse this with a GBLT disc, because you'll be sorely disappointed.
Our review of The Queen (Blu-Ray), published May 17th, 2007, is also available.
Portrait Artist: You may not be allowed to vote, ma'am, but it is your
The Queen has one of those officious looking banners across the crest of the DVD case that says "Academy Award Winner 2006 Best Actress—Helen Mirren." There's no confusion about who is the central figure of the story, who is the best actress to watch, and why anyone would want to check out the disc. Mirren is as much a national treasure as any member of Britain's Royal Family. She took the world by storm in 2006 when she played a woman who is very much alive and revered. Hers is undoubtedly the best performance, but there are many reasons to take a look at this fascinating film. The Queen is a reserved look at a centuries old class struggle in England where tradition pulls against modern progress.
Facts of the Case
In the wake of the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the Queen of England (Helen Mirren, Elizabeth I, The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, Excalibur) must struggle between the low-key ceremony demanded by Royal tradition, or succumbing to the demands of the modern Prime Minister (Michael Sheen, Blood Diamond) and her subjects to provide the funeral the people feel Diana deserves. It is a film that asks us to look at a familiar story from a different view. When the death of Princess Diana happened in 1997, we saw it all from her perspective, and the Queen came off as tough and hard. Here we are given the events from the view of the monarch, and it's a surprising journey. You feel for Her Majesty, and wonder at the end if she simply is a misunderstood figure.
The thematic conflict throughout The Queen is the constant push and pull of doing things traditionally or bending to the progression of the world. The Establishment is provoked by the people to make a decision they feel is more fitting than sticking to ancient protocol. Princess Diana was not an official member of the Royal Family at the time of her death, and in fact had done many things to distance herself from that association. In Britain the film is more politically charged than anywhere else in the world since it addresses anti-Monarchy sentiments which were brought up at the time. Yet the theme is universal. When any nation looks at the loss of a beloved public figure, the masses turn to their leaders for cues for how to handle their grief. Yet when Diana passed, the Queen was silent while people piled flowers for hundreds of yards outside Buckingham Palace's gates. There was a real division between what the people wanted and what the Royalty thought was right and sensible to do.
Frears is the perfect director for this material since his previous work always portrays class struggles in the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Blair is decidedly middle class, while the Queen is the very top of upper crust; the clash between the two provides an interesting conflict to base the story. The movie provides a rare glimpse into private lives we have never been privy to, and the revelation is how earthy the pragmatic Royals actually are.
Helen Mirren has the daunting task of playing a public figure who is quietly guarded in every appearance she makes. She's not allowed to go over the top at any moment, or show too much emotion. To do so would be inaccurate as well as offensive. Even during a crying scene the actress is required to keep her back to the camera to avoid the sensationalism of showing the Queen in tears. The conflicts in this story seem small, so the demand on the actress is to infuse every look and motion with genuine feeling. How does one make "aloof" endearing? Mirren does it miraculously well, and the performance is as impressive as her accolades indicate. She's sublime, and hits every beat with a precision few actresses could deliver. She's an absolute marvel, and Mirren owns the film as easily as her real life counterpart rules England. She's born to deliver this performance, and we get to see her at the top of her game after a career that has spanned decades. I've heard the actress ponder publicly if the real Queen has seen her work. An official press statement from Her Majesty reports that she has no interest in seeing someone portray one of the worst weeks of her life. Yet one wonders if she secretly she's snuck a peak at Helen playing her, especially now that the film has hit DVD. She needn't worry that she was portrayed poorly, since urban legend has it that Mirren was so convincing when made up that on set crew members would stand up straight the moment she entered a room.
It's not an easy line to walk, but somehow director Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things) crafts a film that both respects and criticizes the Royal Family. The English people were unhappy with the Monarchy when Diana died. The Queen shows how the Queen could be so cold about the events yet still be a sympathetic figure. Credit should go to the Oscar-winning script by Peter Morgan for balancing the drama and never allowing our sympathies to drift too far in one direction. His work is intelligent and even-handed, creating dramatic counterpoints between the public outcries of grief and the Royal Family's attempt to keep things small and private. Not only is this an incredible portrait of the title character, but we get fully fleshed out characterizations of Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Royal Family.
Every performer turns in an achingly real performance, and the production begins to feel as if it were documentary rather than a fictional account of historical events. Even more amazing is the judicious use of real news footage from the event pulled from CNN and other sources. These sequences allow the filmmakers to recreate events they never could have, and lends The Queen a certain, haunting authority. Princess Diana feels like a supporting character simply through the use of a few clips and photographs. Frears gives the right amount of respect, and on the flip side provides enough snarl to keep The Queen fascinating throughout. The film feels Shakespearian yet authentic; Frears makes reserve seem radical.
On DVD, The Queen plays even better than it did in theatrical release. The project is small, and its tight drama feels more at home on the television screen. Frears purposefully filmed many sequences in different film stock to contrast the two classes he was examining and to give The Queen a documentary feel. You'll notice change in quality as the scenes shift between the Queen and Tony Blair. The film looks a little pale and blown out, and certain sequences appear soft and grainy. Overall the authoring is accurate to the filmmaker's intention, and the flaws are part of the storytelling. The surround sound track is lively enough to keep the dialogue clear, and uses speakers to add accents where appropriate. The score and effects are as low-key as the rest of the film. The only time things get truly active is during the recreation of the tragic chase of Diana's car in Paris.
Extras are sparse, but pack enough support to make it doubtful any new editions will further clarify the film. The making of featurette includes interviews with cast and crew, with excellent footage of Mirren discussing her role. There are two commentaries provided: a director and screenwriter track, and one provided by a historian and novelist who served as an advisor on the film. The two tracks compliment each other with different insights into the story. You have Frears and Morgan providing tales of how it was on the set, and then another take on the historical accuracy of the events.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like the Royal Family it depicts, The Queen is a stiff upper lip British drama. Viewers expecting sensationalism or fireworks will be severely disappointed in the proceedings. The pace is slow and reserved; The Queen doen't move anywhere quickly. Even the climactic passages seem reserved, such as when the Queen comes face to face with a magnificent stag (a clip shown at the Oscars). If you're not a fan of British drama and subtle acting, The Queen may not be your cup of tea.
The Queen is a masterful portrait of a living legend, made all the more vital with a star turn by Helen Mirren who took home the 2006 Oscar for her work. On DVD the film flourishes with a reserved presentation, including anamorphic widescreen transfer with purposeful mistakes, a subdued audio track, and a trio of special features which look at the project from three angles. It's an old fashioned British drama that rails against tradition and at the same time empathizes with the stodgy Royal Family.
Guilty of being a sublime portrait, The Queen is free to go on with its stiff upper lip and loving critical look at centuries of tradition. Long live Helen Mirren, one of the few living members of acting royalty.
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• Making of Featurette
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