Judge Ryan Keefer kept looking for Brian May and Freddie Mercury in this film until his wife straightened him out.
Our review of The Queen, published April 16th, 2007, is also available.
"That woman has given her whole life in service to her people. Fifty years doing a job she never wanted, a job she watched kill her father. She's executed it with honor, dignity and, as far as I can tell, without a single blemish and now we're all baying for her blood!"
If there was one thing that everyone agreed upon when The Queen was released, it was that the performance of Helen Mirren (Excalibur) as Her Royal Highness was one that expected and demanded most of the praise, and she won every major award for the best performance by a female lead in 2006. Is it worthy of all the praise, and how does the film look in high definition?
Facts of the Case
Written by Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland) and directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity), the film chronicles the activities of Elizabeth II, Queen of England (Mirren) and her family over a five-month period in 1997, with much of the focus on the seven days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, Kingdom of Heaven) was voted into the post for his platform of bringing change to the existing government. But in the days following Diana's death, Blair acted more as a leader while the monarchy was frustratingly silent in offering words of sympathy or condolence for the British subjects, who reacted in overwhelming numbers to Diana's tragic demise. Many of us are familiar with the events outside the walls of Buckingham Palace, and the intent of The Queen is to try and show what might have occurred inside the Palace.
Many people have been of the opinion that the Royal Family's handling of the aftermath of Diana's death was abhorrent at best, and coldhearted at its worst. And, admittedly, there were moments that made Elizabeth, Philip and, to a lesser extent, Charles into a triumvirate of prototypical British stoicism. However, Frears and Morgan help to put that stoicism in its context. Elizabeth was, after all, a woman who took over the British Monarchy when she was 25, and whose job of presiding over said Monarchy had almost taken up two-thirds of her life by the time Diana perished in her automobile accident. If you do something long enough, not only does it become second nature, it makes you forget about the basics in life. Frears does an effective job of showing the borderline lunacy that some exhibit over the course of the film, but he equally shows that because the family has been steeped in traditions and rituals for so long, that out of the box thinking just doesn't suit them anymore. In one scene, when Blair suggests the Queen take some actions as part of restoring the royal image, the part that generates the most outrage is when Elizabeth's husband Philip (James Cromwell, The Green Mile) is furious that the phone call has made his wife's tea go cold. Come on guys, there must have been bigger things to think about at this point other than the Darjeerling.
Getting to Mirren's performance in a moment, the supporting players are effective not only from a performance point of view, but the casting choices are spot on. Cromwell is excellent as Philip, one who firmly supports the tradition over public sentiment. Elizabeth's mother (Sylvia Sims, What a Girl Wants) is a firm balance of counsel combined with the tradition she is more than aware of. As for Mirren, at first I thought it was a little bit kitschy to see her in the role. She portrayed Elizabeth I in the BBC/HBO mini-series of the same name to great praise and success, and became the first actress to play both Queen Elizabeths, and yet in both performances, she conveys the image of tradition being stifling to both women. In Elizabeth I, she played her as a woman who wanted to obtain a balance between aspirations of motherhood and managing the throne, and had to overcome some hurdles to do it. In The Queen, there's no balance to speak of. Tradition has prevented her from reacting with any feeling or emotion. She confides to Blair near the end of the film that her tradition, her duty, is all she really knows. She manages to deliver it in such a deadpan manner that it almost reeks of a plea. Mirren portrays the Queen as one with very little emotion, but you can see that her stoicism dominates her existence and earns some pity from us all, and the performance by her, not to mention everyone else in the cast, is perfect, even Shakespearean. The challenge to cast a Diana wasn't even addressed, as the newsreel footage that is used during the film to illustrate the events and the outrage does a better job than a large scale production would have done.
Miramax presents The Queen on a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that looks good. As mentioned earlier, the film employs a lot of news footage into the film and it all comes out looking better than expected. It's to be expected with the subject matter that black levels look good, which they do. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is a bit of a bummer here, as all of the dialogue in the film leaves the surround speakers with nothing to do except something with the score. Both audio and video productions work, but I wouldn't nominate them for reference quality by any means. Frears and Morgan contribute a commentary track for the film that focuses on the production. Nothing is enlightened by the duo when it comes to what occurred. There's a second commentary with Royal historian Robert Lacey and it is the better choice to listen to. It contains a lot more information and trivia about the royal family than I was expecting, and is a worthy supplement to the overall lack of extras on the disc, as the only other thing here is a rather vanilla making of look at the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing I may have disagreed with during the course of the film was the direction of Prince Charles (Alex Charles, Babel). In the film, Charles seems to be more of a "modern man" who is conflicted more by the tradition than what his heart seems to want. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't he cheating on Diana with Camilla? I didn't really understand or agree with the interpretation.
The Queen is a compelling and rather convincing look inside the private lives of the world's most public faces. The performances are outstanding, the technical qualities aren't too shabby, the only thing I would have liked to seen them improve on (both in the next generation and standard definition discs) is the decision to include a lot more material into the releases. It would have made for some keeper material. As it stands, it's worth a rental at the very least, and you might wind up buying it, as it's full of material that extracurricular discussion could benefit from.
The court bows in the presence of such excellent thespian work, and sends its loyal subjects on their merry way.
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Scales of Justice
• Making of Featurette
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