WHAT GOES ON BEHIND ROYALTY'S CLOSED DOORS.
Political comedies are almost impossible to pull off, mostly because either the absurdities of reality manage to outstrip the movie's satire or the film is just generally bereft of ideas.
Stephen Frears' marvelous ``The Queen'' gets it right because it puts aside satirical broadsides in favor of a psychologically precise look at the behavior of Britain's royal family in the week between Princess Diana's fatal car crash and her state funeral, an approach that manages to be both humane and hilarious.
Image over substance
Underneath its push-pull battle between Queen Elizabeth's out-of-time, stiff-upper-lip old guard attitude and Tony Blair's misty-eyed emotiveness, ``The Queen'' is a smart and tough-minded skewering of the House of Windsor as well as an examination of the primacy of image over substance. There's plenty of buffoonery to be sure, but the film -- superbly written by Peter Morgan, who co-wrote ``The Last King of Scotland'' -- has ambitions greater than being simply a fly-on-the-wall look at the supremely silly and spoiled.
``The Queen'' mixes fact with fiction and includes newsreel footage of Diana, whose presence can be felt in every frame of the movie. The film moves back and forth between Balmoral, Scotland, where the royals are blissfully cocooned for the summer, and 10 Downing St., with eager-to-please Prime Minister Blair (well-
played by look-alike Michael Sheen) grousing, ``They screwed up her life. I'm not going to let them screw up her death.''
Public vs. private matter
Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) wants to treat Diana's death as a private matter. ``It's a family funeral, not a fairground attraction,'' she tells her prime minister. The family -- which includes blowhard Prince Philip (James Cromwell) and the perpetually tipsy Queen Mother (Sylvia Sims) -- can't reconcile the public's grief with the private Diana, whom they loathed. Only Charles (Alex Jennings) understands that the country's mood won't blow over, and he instinctively (though quite pathetically) seeks to side with Blair's ``people's princess'' pronouncements.
Elizabeth, too, must eventually come around to Blair's way of thinking. But it's going to be on her terms. As she tells Blair shortly after he's elected, ``You're my 10th prime minister. My first was Winston Churchill.'' If that puts him in his place, it's later up to Blair to save the monarchy from irrelevancy or, worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint), obliteration.
Another Mirren triumph
Mirren's acting has been praised to the point where songs are probably, at this moment, being written in her honor. But the hosannas are on target. Mirren probably imbues the queen with more elegance and wit than she deserves. She certainly humanizes a woman genuinely confused by the sea change she never saw coming, but (eventually) willing to do her duty for her people and, of course, for herself. The queen should be ever so grateful for this casting.
Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672.
THE QUEEN - Three and one half stars
(PG-13: brief strong language)
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen.
Director: Stephen Frears.
Running time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Playing: ArcLight in Hollywood; Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles.
In a nutshell: Smart, tough-minded and very funny skewering of the royal family's behavior in the week between Princess Diana's car crash and her state funeral. Towering performance from Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth.
While grieving Britons mourn the loss of Princess Diana with flowers and messages, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and Prince Philip (James Cromwell) don't share the sentiment in ``The Queen,'' which chronicles the week between Diana's death and her state funeral.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 6, 2006|
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