' Cinema Romantico: The Queen

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Queen

On Sunday afternoon I finally made a trek to see the movie I originally said I wouldn't see because I couldn't watch it with a fair eye. But I think I did manage to give it as fair an eye as I could.

So, yeah, let me say right up front that woman (Helen Mirren, was it?) who plays The Queen is good. Really good. She deserved the Oscar. Okay? Are you happy? Is everyone satisfied? I'm admitting it. She deserved it. There came a point when, despite all the critical acclaim and awards she has received, I completely forgot I was watching Mirren play a role. That's always a wonderful thing.

But I'd like to specifically mention a different perfomer, one who tragically wasn't nominated. Michael Sheen as British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The movie is named "The Queen", of course, but it could have just as easily have been named "The Prime Minister". Watching the movie takes me back to the tragic death of Princess Diana and the royal family refusing to comment or fly a flag at high-mast. And it makes me remember a time when Tony Blair wasn't wished ill will on a daily basis.

As the events unfold, Blair has just been elected Prime Minister. And then the unfortunate events with Diana unfold we watch as Blair has to dance back and forth between the Queen and the British people, attempting to appease everyone. The Royal Family is interested in maintaining tradition. The flag should not be put up at half-mast for Diana. They won't make a public address as it is a private matter. But the people of Britain, the ones leaving all those flowers outside Buckingham Palace, seem to want the Royals to do the exact opposite. Blair has to play both sides. At first you may sense he agrees with the people, only to see the Royals' point of view over time.

The movie easily could have made all the characters aloof. Or it even more easily could have gone the route of trying to show its characters are real people just like you and me. Instead the movie simply introduces its characters, presents the tragic event (Diana's death) and then shows the characters reacting to this event. There is nary a piece of forced characterization.

The Royals are steeped in tradition and have been so for years and years. You can understand why they make the choices they make, despite the outcry of the people. But then you can also understand the desires of the people, after all Diana was the "people's princess". But then you can also see the hardened shell of the Queen begin to crack and not just from persuasion of outside forces but from within herself as well. And you can empathize with poor Tony Blair as he has to deftly play both sides and, as he does, come to his deeper understanding. And then there's Princess Di. You see why maybe the Royals felt the way they did about her but then you also see why the people felt the way they did about her and she never, at any point, is necessarily made into a saint. All of this is another one of those screenwriting terms you often hear people babbling about without any real understanding of it - multi-dimensional characters. Peter Morgan was the writer and he should have won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, hands down.

Uh, is it too late to make my Top 6 List a Top 7 List?

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