The Queen (12A)
ANDREW CLARKE Helen Mirren turns delivers an uncanny portrayal of our sovereign while Michael Sheen reprises his astonishing performance as a young, fresh-faced Tony Blair making a gigantic mess of his first audience with the Queen.
Although the title of the film is The Queen, it could easily have been 'Diana', as the late Princess of Wales, not seen on screen outside news footage, dominates every second of this stunning film.
A fictionalised documentary drama focusing on the week following Diana's death, this has my vote for British movie of the year. Helen Mirren turns in a career-best performance delivering an uncanny portrayal of our sovereign while Michael Sheen reprises his astonishing performance as a young, fresh-faced Tony Blair making a gigantic mess of his first audience with the Queen.
Frears, certainly one of our nation's greatest contemporary directors, weaves dramatised footage of life behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace and Downing Street with news footage from the time. This is a daring move as you are constantly comparing fiction with reality. It is to Frears' and the cast's credit that the film not only survives this comparison, but the joins are virtually seamless. Within minutes of the start of the film you forget you are watching actors in these highly recognisable roles - the excellent Helen Mirren has never been better.
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The film opens with Charles and Diana's divorce which moves into a montage title sequence which reminds us of the events which featured in her last 12 months before ending in the blackness of that Paris road tunnel.
The silence and blackness is broken by the sound of a ringing telephone as the Queen's equerry is awoken by a call from the British Embassy informing the Palace of Diana's death.
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Of course, none of us is in a position to know what really goes on behind the closed doors of power, so you have to take the screenplay on trust, but what I will say is that the events acted out on screen look and sound authentic - you can readily believe these conversations actually took place.
This is not a film which seeks to point the finger of blame at anyone or to turn others into saints and heroes. Instead it is a compelling look into a week which brought us as closer to a constitutional crisis as we have experienced since the abdication of Edward VIII.
The only people to really come out of the film with a stain on their characters are the impossibly out-of-touch Prince Philip (James Cromwell) and the opportunist spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Everyone else is given a very even-handed approach.
Frears does extraordinarily well to recreate the grief and the hysteria of that time. For the first time the Queen is shown as being completely out of touch with the mood of the country. She is shown as being completely lost. Prince Charles is genuinely grief-stricken at the death of his former wife and is afraid of the effect that her loss will have on his young sons but doesn't have the strength to stand up to his mother or his father who stridently telling the Queen to stand firm that the country will come to its senses in a day or two.
Blair, an instinctive politician and reader of the public mood, knows that the royal family cannot hide in Scotland. They must be seen to be grieving; the Queen must make a broadcast to the nation. Public opinion takes a turn for the worse when one national paper notes that there is no flag flying half mast on Buckingham Palace and another reports that one in four people now want to see the end of the monarchy.
Blair bombards the royals with phone calls and the Queen curtly informs him that no one knows the mood of the British people better than her and if he thinks she is returning to London before taking care of her grandchildren he has another thing coming. Taking care of the young princes involves Prince Philip taking the young boys out stag hunting for several days on the trot.
Back in London Tony Blair is seen to be at his wit's end, he wants to throw the Queen a life-line but she is refusing to catch it. His situation is not helped by Cherie (Helen McCrory) who doesn't waste an opportunity to tease her husband about his love affair with what she thinks is a tired, parasitic institution.
As we all know the Queen did return to London, Diana did receive a state funeral rather than a low-key private affair but the real heart of this film is the complex politics and protocol which went on behind the scenes.
The screenplay by Peter Morgan, who also wrote The Deal for Channel Four, again directed by Stephen Frears and featuring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, is sharp, focused, highly believable and totally compelling. Without a doubt, a must-see movie.