The Queen (Miramax, PG-13)

Mirren is known for her daring performances, and here she dares to be…ordinary. She actually makes the Queen seem like a regular person who happens to be in an extraordinary position at a difficult time.

 

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Princess Diana. Say that name to anyone, even now, and you'll probably get a barrage of glowing adjectives thrown at you. To her many admirers and fans she was sophisticated, beautiful, giving, selfless, glamorous, and compassionate. Her royal in-laws, however, seemed to have felt differently. And when Diana died on August 31, 1997, they were treated to quite a public surprise.

The Queen deals with the tense political wrangling following Diana's fatal car crash. A polite battle of wills sets off between new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and the royals—especially Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren)—whom he tries to convince to make a public showing of something. If they won't present their grief to the people, they should at least show some understanding of their subjects overwhelming sadness.

The Queen was apparently unprepared for this outpouring of sorrow. Especially since she, and most of the royal family, had come to (at the very least) dislike Diana. She couldn't understand why Diana was so popular, and was absolutely unwilling to make concessions in the wake of her death. Not because the Queen was unfeeling, but because she saw no reason to cater to Diana's fans. And since she wasn't fond of Diana, why lie?

All along the way Blair is in full damage-control mode. He makes a public statement and visits the throngs of mourners outside the palace. He pleads repeatedly with the Queen to see that England has changed in the 44 years since she gained the throne. Much to her chagrin, the people no longer want a stoic monarch.

Mirren and Sheen are the foundation of this film. Mirren is known for her daring performances, and here she dares to be…ordinary. She actually makes the Queen seem like a regular person who happens to be in an extraordinary position at a difficult time. Mirren has so many small moments in The Queen where we can see her ruminating, completely confused by her people's needs and frustrated by how quickly they've turned on her. Her version of tight-lipped befuddlement is the best of its kind.

Sheen, while not well known, proves time and again to be a formidable talent and well suited to play off Mirren's Queen. As Blair, Sheen manages a delicate balance of powerful politico, family man, and loyal subject. For each recrimination from the people and the press he does all he can to help the royals out of the hole he sees them digging for themselves. Carefully and with wide-eyed grace, he guides his ruler through a plan to regain her country's loyalty.

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