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October 20, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 42
 
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'The Queen' is Mirren Tour de Force
'The Queen' is Mirren Tour de Force
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

The Queen
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings
Opens today at the Harvard Exit


The Queen isn't merely a film about the usefulness of a monarchy in this day and age. It's not just about the underbelly of British politics, or the effrontery of the paparazzi. It's also about strength and character, and how our definitions of those qualities have changed. And it portrays a remarkable but elusive quality, nobility, in the person of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

The majority of the movie takes place during the week following Diana Spencer's fatal car crash in Paris. The major conflict is ostensibly about the status, or lack thereof, of Diana at the time of her death. She was no longer a member of the royal family and had been an embarrassment to the staid Windsors. As a grandmother to Diana's sons, Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) is in the awkward position of protecting and comforting William and Harry without appearing to, for want of a better term, "suck up" to the public. Protocol is the Queen's byword. Should the family jet be used to retrieve Diana's body? No. Should the household flag at Buckingham Palace be raised to half mast? No! Should the royals make a statement to the public? No - and we should be most gratified if you'd kindly keep your nose out of it and let us mourn in peace, thank you veddy much.

But the royal family's need for privacy is read as haughty disinterest by the masses. The longer the Queen is silent over the death of their beloved Lady Di, the louder the nation's discomfort rings in the ears of the recently-elected Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, Underworld, Bright Young Things). He reads the public sentiment correctly, and continuously breaks the beloved protocols to suggest that Her Majesty reconsider her position. The tension between Elizabeth and Blair is tasty and well-worth the price of admission.

As the film began I found myself gasping the moment Helen Mirren was revealed. The resemblance isn't just striking; in the Queen's regalia, bejeweled and coiffed, it's positively uncanny. There is a sense that HRH is always holding something back, even in her private moments with her family, and this reserve is the crux of the film: the Queen is, at all times, the Queen. Mirren doesn't mimic Elizabeth's voice, as that would denigrate the performance to caricature. She's still Elizabeth to the bone. In a world without guarantees, Mirren is sure to receive an Oscar nomination, if not the statue itself. See The Queen for her portrayal alone, and you'll walk out thinking you're glad you're not a blue-blood.

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