The Queen Embarcadero Theater
Helen Mirren emerged out of the pack for me when I first saw Gatwick Park. She played that role with such a sense of over-arching pathos that I was drawn not only to her performance but to her as an actress and a presence - a face that bespeaks seriousness and credibility. I went to see "The Queen" with all of this in the back of my mind, naively expecting something approaching reality.
Helen Mirren does physically resemble the Queen, Elizabeth II. As to personality, speech, attitude and psyche, who knows? This might be a case of guilt by association. The other characters seem more like caricatures than anything else. James Cromwell (who played George Sibley in Six Feet Under) plays Prince Philip and I couldn't get the George Sibley character out of my mind as I watched him. The slight crazy, worldly, would be intellectual reacts to the realities of the Fisher family (as real as that can get) and seems unable to take them in or relate to them. In the Queen, the Prince Philip character seems only capable of seeing the situation developing about him as being governed by royal tradition and etiquette. One wonders if the film-maker ever looked into the youth of this man - his loss of family, his loss of prestige as the royal consort, and his association with Lord Mountbatten's attempts at promoting that house and line. Perhaps the performance is an honest representation of Philip's behavior or speeches, driven by his deeply hidden anger as the constant "outsider" who is only concerned with his own position, and turning his ire and cynicism toward Diana, the latest outsider.
The Queen Mum is played by Sylvia Syms with a similar sense of cynical anger. While visiting with friends on Cape Cod a couple of weeks ago, I chanced on a copy of Kitty Kelly's The Royals. One of the most telling arguments that she makes is that Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had a great sense of loss at the death of her husband, George VI. This loss was more than the loss of a husband and friend (are royals friendly to one another?) but also the loss of precedence and prestige to her daughter (and is that why Philip is only a consort and not king?). If this sense of anger and betrayal/defeat is what really drives the Queen Mother, then Ms. Syms portrays her well: slightly boozy, a real cynic, and a pit bull about tradition and precedence. There is a connection between these characters that seems impenetrable by the males (Charles and Philip). It is if this nexus is the place where the real essence of royalty lies.
Ah, Charles. As played by Alex Jennings, Charles is a wimp, frustrated by his father (and his em-wife in absentia) and constantly seeking to moderate the hardness of his mother. He plays Charles as a constantly and anxiously seeking some kind of entré into the real circle of power, wanting to "modernize the monarchy". There's lots of tweed, grimacing and wincing glances. Most of all there is an anguished attempt to connect with the Tony Blair character, and to act as a father to his children (who are actually commandeered by Prince Philip.) We are only shown this aspect of Charles and none of the depth of his development. One wonders why he attempted his "screen rebellion" against his mother. There is nothing in the character's presentation to give us a clue. The film is really a snapshot of a week in the life of the Queen, with very little context to deepened and fill out that characters that we think we already know.
There is a baffling metaphor in the midst of the film which is supposed, I think, to serve as a key to the performance and situation portrayed. A fourteen point buck is spotted on one of the several hunts organized by Prince Philip to distract the royal princes from any emotional connection to the death of their mother. On one hunt, the Queen takes her Landrover out to meet the hunting party. Waiting for a Balmoral rescue team when the Landrover becomes stalled in a river, Elizabeth sees the buck. It is magnificent, and recalls the scene in The Deer Hunter. Elizabeth is stirred, smiles, and almost becomes human and introspective - then fades. Later she learns that the buck has been shot on a neighboring estate by a foreigner. There is a visceral response as she rushes to see the buck in the nieghbor's kill hall. Is Diana the buck? - a thing of beauty killed by a foreigner? Is the monarchy the buck, killed by an outsider? Or is this a single instance of Elizabeth being distracted from the tragedy at hand by her love of animals and nature - a glimpse of the true Elizabeth hidden under layers of royal protocol and noblesse oblige?
Finally there is the Tony Blair character, a straight man to the royals' show of insensitivity and removal. A true ingenue, he is in a test and learn mode, in which his attempts to moderate the situation are seen as the intrusions of an outsider. He is in suspension between the conservatism of the Queen and the republicanism of his slogan-spouting wife. In a sense he is the only true character, struggling to understand himself and the situation that is emerging all about him.
I expected a lot from this film. I expected some kind of interpretation of the events that developed around the death of the Princess of Wales. I was startled when the audience that viewed this film with me began laughing at the exaggerated characters that attempted to tell the story. I left the film feeling both intrigued and disappointed. The hype for the film, and the aspect of the advertising (the black and white half face of Helen Mirren as Elizabeth) led me to believe this would be an arty and interpretive work. It ended up being more Kitty Kelly than anything.
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