It is a general belief that oldsters cherish the values and customs that they have grown up with while youngsters on the other hand rebel and boot established norms. Your grandfather may constantly scold you for your irregular sleeping habit while you would constantly justify it by reminding him how busy you are. This nature has been seen since time immemorial and will be seen in the future. In ‘The Queen’, Cherie Blair, Mr. Tony Blair’s wife saucily reminds her husband about his mother while they debate about the relevance of monarchy, calling her ‘old-fashioned’, ‘rigid’. On the other hand, in the opening scene, an aged painter, while making Queen Elizabeth’s portrait, confides in her that he hasn’t voted for Blair since he doesn’t believe in ‘modernizing’. The Queen smugly reminds him that in the end, she is the one to ratify. This establishment versus modification between the royalty (the old) and the common people (the new) is what sets the tone of The Queen. I asked my grandfather whether he felt Lady Di was entitled to a public funeral, to which he replied that it was the Queen’s private matter. On the other hand, many youngsters (and under 50 is young) would feel the Queen is being vindictive.
‘The Queen’ captures what possibly went inside the four walls of the Royal family and Tony Blair’s home and office. If one observes the attire itself, it is noticeable how regally the Royal family dresses even when in bedroom while Blair sports jaunty tee-shirts. When the Queen meets Blair, the latter, who isn’t very accustomed to the protocol, smiles stupidly when he flubs up at one point during the meeting. Till here, everything seems formal and distant, and we know less about both the characters. But when the tragedy occurs, we are taken right into the center of action. It is then that we feel the actual tension that runs on both sides, and we get to see how Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair react and respond, to their families, their associates and the public.
Helen Mirren, an acting God, should share the space with heavyweights like Brando because she is able to find a path to make her characters entirely convincing without having the need to draw attention towards her technique. Her contemporary Meryl Streep too has that capacity but her Iron Lady sometimes became ‘Oh, did that thing with her lower lip just like Thatcher!’ or ‘Look how she conveys shivers by lowering her neck and bringing it forward!’; Mirren played with her pearls, spoke with slight disconcert and humiliation during the televised speech just like Queen Elizabeth but never made us draw comparisons with the real Queen while watching the film because we believed, at least for the runtime of about 100 minutes, that she was Queen Elizabeth. Her character is beleaguered not only by the public, the media and Tony Blair, but also by her own family who, with the exception of Prince Charles, consent with her stance about a private funeral. The moment she acquiesces with Tony Blair, they frown and take her to task. On the other hand, Blair reminds her that by resisting his advice, she would blacken her own reputation. Helen Mirren conveys her character’s dilemma with dignity, demureness and valor, and the only moment she breaks down (along with her jeep) is when she is absolutely alone. The camera does not pan at her face then because she doesn’t want “anyone” to intrude then.
The stag scene is pivotal in the film, an abstruse allegory to Princess Diana’s death and Queen Elizabeth’s compassion. The stag is a beautiful creature that Queen Elizabeth encounters during her breakdown. While admiring its majesty, a gunshot is heard in the distance but the stag doesn’t move. The queen tries to shoo it away before it gets killed and it leaves when a dog barks in the background. The Queen feels relieved after this incident, only to find out that it was killed in a neighboring area. She visits the place alone, sheds a tear, tells the person there to convey her regards to the new owner and leaves. (i) This situation may allude to Princess’ death with the stag signifying Di who left to Paris, a neighboring area and got killed over there or (ii) in one of the earlier scenes, as Queen walks down the hallway with I think Robin Janvrin behind her, the camera is at almost ground level and titled toward the air. On the top of the walls, the heads of stags can be seen affixed. Later, the Queen’s compassionate attitude towards the stag seems like a contrast to her former attitude.
The rest of the cast helps in achieving cracking chemistry with each other, avoiding the talky film to slip into boredom. Michael Sheen as Tony Blair may sound childish and artificial sometimes in his delivery but for most part is convincing. Sylvia Syms is wise, witty and nutty as Queen Mother, and so is Helen McCrory as Cherie. More than the cast, scriptwriter Peter Morgan should be credited for his glorious and immaculate work, which helped the characters slip naturally into their roles and create dramatic tension. The symbolism is subtle and meaningful unlike the embarrassing metaphors in Iron Lady (“Right-o!” says Thatcher and swerves the car to the wrong side of the road just to hint her political inclination. Then there is the scene with ‘milk cartons’. How tacky!).
In the words of Peter Morgan, hands of a great director (Stephen Frears) and instruments in the form of a great cast, The Queen has become an important character study in the form of a biography. Plus, you do not need to know much about Britain’s past to see the film. It is a must watch for everyone.