Helen Mirren in The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, 2006
Anthony Lane | Le Figaro | Manohla Dargis | Desson Thomson | Ty Burr | Others
Stephen Frears has directed several of my favorite movies, including Prick Up Your Ears (1987), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and High Fidelity (2000). Those films are more different from one another than similar, but what Frears does wondrously in each of them is to make the viewer sympathize with a not so sympathetic character. He has done it again in The Queen, leading me to understand a little better some of the worshipful veneration of the late Princess Diana and even to feel pity for a monarchical relic of ages past, Elizabeth Windsor. This is largely due to the mind-bending work of Helen Mirren, who has had memorable outings in royal roles before, including Elizabeth I, Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George, and in a way even as Morgana in Excalibur.
Alex Jennings and Michael Sheen in The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, 2006
When the Queen drives her own Royal Range Rover out to find the hunting party on the windswept slopes, Mirren is at her strongest in an encounter with the quarry, a magnificent stag. At a private picnic, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother (a boozy Sylvia Syms) urge Elizabeth not to give into public demands to fly a flag at half-staff over Windsor Castle. The only flag that flies there is the royal standard, and only when the monarch is in residence. Do these protocols really matter anymore? Here the Queen Mother and her daughter are convinced that they do, and the new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, in a truly uncanny bit of mimicry), does his best to prevent the royals from making themselves completely irrelevant. Happily, The Queen is not really about the specific events around the death of Princess Diana. It is about how the British monarchy does or does not connect to the people it aims to serve. Apparently, the people still want them to.