film & game reviews, the retro way.
Released in 2006, The Queen is a Stephen Frears film following the British Royal Family's very public reaction (and initial lack thereof) to the death of Princess Diana in 1997. It was a significant hit at the box-office and earned Helen Mirren, who plays Elizabeth II, an Academy Award.
Set in 1997, the film focuses on the Royal Family and their butting of heads with the press as well as the public during the aftermath of Diana's shocking death. Soon after the tragic event, Elizabeth II finds herself, and her family, who were vacationing in Scotland at the time of the accident, under pressure to grieve publicly rather than in private. The Queen is portrayed as wanting to follow traditional protocol but protecting the Crown becomes increasingly difficult as she starts being perceived as heartless and unfazed by the death of Diana, whom she was famously not terribly fond of prior to her passing due to her relationship with Prince Charles falling apart. As members of the Royal Family and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) step in, Elizabeth II is put into a situation where she might just need to bend the rules a little in order to appease the public.
By having the film be set at that particular point in time, Stephen Frears attempts to succinctly convey what the Royals are all about through a relatively recent event many of us remember in the hope, perhaps, of peeling off a layer of mystery from the Queen and the people close to her. The idea being to try and paint a picture of human beings reacting to a tragic event rather than distant celebrities with alien lifestyles who have no interest in interacting with their fans. This focused approach makes the film very easy to follow and puts the lead performances themselves on a pedestal, which was certainly a wise move. Indeed, Helen Mirren does an excellent job at portraying Elizabeth II, bringing nuance and emotion to her initially frosty demeanor. The rest of the cast, however, fails to convince quite as much for varying reasons but mostly because casting for biopics is incredibly difficult. Documentary really is the superior biographical tool when it comes to movies for that very reason (and others as well), one would argue.
Though the film does tell its story well, it lacks the punch that the director was looking for. Elizabeth II's encounter with an animal who is later, she finds out, killed was partly designed to make us feel for the monarch but there is just not enough there to work with. Frears and his cast humanizes this Royal Family as much as they could but most of that does just come off as fantastical elaborations rather than a sincere portrayal of real people going through real emotions. In the same way that The King's Speech was both a competent, enjoyable film but also ultimately unfulfilling so does The Queen impress in some ways but overall come up short in the drama department. Perhaps going the Citizen Kane route of making a film about a real person but fictionalizing their story through a made-up character might have made for a more interesting film.
As it stands, The Queen is a perfectly serviceable biopic. It is better than many, in fact, and those interested in the topic explored in the film should enjoy it fine on the whole. Anyone looking for something a little more substantial may find themselves forgetting most of this one pretty quickly and seeking out fuller, less artificial takes on these, admittedly, interesting events.