Many of us will remember Lady Diana Spencer (1961-1997), Princess of Wales. Blonde, blue-eyed and gorgeous, she was everyone's fairytale princess made real, growing even closer to people's hearts as she struggled with personal crises of the modern era - bulimia, adultery, divorce, post-natal depression and an exploitative tabloid media.
The Queen is a magnificent film, breathtakingly lush in its recreation of the palace grounds, top-notch in its acting, and powerful in its emotional play. We recognise in Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) a proud, intelligent woman whose understanding of her country just happens to be stuck in the past. She's convinced that the UK would prefer her to remain stoic and follow tradition, pointing out that since Diana was divorced, she is no longer part of the royal family and should not be granted a public funeral.
Over the course of a week, the memorial bouquets pile up around Buckingham Palace, and her subjects grow louder in their insistence of her failure to honour Diana's death. They are not the stiff upper-lipped Britishers that Elizabeth remembers from her youth; they have changed. Yet the Queen does nothing.
Elizabeth's character is resonant because we've met people like her before - for example, our own parents. She's the mother of the country, in denial over her kingdom's coming out. And Diana was, after all, a gay icon - stunningly fashionable, close friends with out celebrities like Gianni Versace and Elton John, and an activist for HIV awareness who'd publicly shaken hands with an AIDS patient at a time when former British PM Margaret Thatcher was suggesting putting people with HIV/AIDS in hospices not unlike concentration camps. Prince Philip (James Cromwell) even spits in disgust at the thought of Diana's funerary cortege, full of "soap stars and homosexuals" - hardly befitting the venerable institution of English royalty.
Director Stephen Frears does a marvellous job of illustrating the uneasy divide that exists between the two worlds of Britain - the upper-class sphere of the royals, where Prince Philip struts around in a kilt and talks about hunting stags, and the hipper, more down-to-earth realm of the people, as represented by newly elected Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), who wears sports jerseys in a home cluttered with Lego and electric guitars. And you'll have to love the way the two worlds interact - Blair's conversations with the Queen are fraught with uneasy tension, and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) feels caught between cultures, enjoying his regal privileges even while recognising populist sentiment against him.
But what's perhaps most poignant is how Frears paints a picture of the Queen - this distant, impenetrable creature - as a strong but vulnerable human being. She has her own strange idiosyncrasies: she fixes jeeps, rears corgis and allows her husband to call her "cabbage." But for the sake of her country, she maintains a lofty dignity - knowing that she can lead better as a tower of majesty than as a media whore.
Frears grants us a peek beneath her veil of restraint, crafting a splendid portrait of an emotional journey of a remarkable woman as she comes to terms with a changed nation. Like our silent mothers and fathers, uncommunicative but caring, she governs as best she knows how. This is a merciful film, telling us to wait before criticising the elders who bar our way. Even if the great and powerful do not understand us, it says, we must strive to understand them.
saw her funeral when i was 8 or 9 .... in tv
One cannot help feeling that the rumours surrounding Diana's untimely death could after all be true.
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