2006-11-03 / Columnists


'The Queen' - Dealing With Diana's Death
Commentary By Robert Snyder

When "Princess of the People" Lady Diana died in an auto accident in 1997, the world went into serious mourning.

However, the hardest hit was the English monarchy, which took some time to realize the impact...what with Queen Elizabeth and her entourage cloistered away in the ivory towers of Buckingham Palace and the Scottish estate of Balmoral. Keeping her ancestral upper lip stiffer than ever, Elizabeth waited for the storm to pass.

It didn't, appearing in the form of thousands of flowers and embittered cards barricading the Palace gates, not to mention bad press. Finally, the Queen succumbed to public pressure and made a televised statement of sympathy for her beloved divorced daughter-in-law (beloved by "the ramble," not the Royals).

This unhappy episode in British history is portrayed perfectly in "The Queen," particularly with the immaculate personification of Her Majesty by Helen Mirren. Equally as impeccable is Michael Sheen's performance of then newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Cheshire Cat smile included). It is Blair, coaxed on the sidelines by well-meaning, but weak-kneed Prince Charles (Alex Jennings), who ultimately brings the monarch to face the mournful music of the melancholy masses.

As her sister, Princess Margaret, is quoted off-camera, "Diana is more trouble dead than alive."

Giving the film a slightly low-budget grainy look, Director Stephen Fears effectively merges news footage of Lady Di promoting her philanthropic causes and complaining about her Royal treatment. "There are really three people in our marriage," she says, referring to Charles' mistress. It gives the departed Princess a living voice in the movie.

Still, "The Queen" is essentially and elegantly carried by Mirren, who embodies Elizabeth as thoroughly as does Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote in "Capote." In fact, Mirren seems a shoo-in for an Academy Award.

She shows the Queen at a crossroads between the traditional world which she represents (so must uphold) and the modern one embraced by Diana and Blair.

Of course, her uptight husband, Prince Philip (James Cromwell), is no help. When Lady Di's death is announced, his concern is to take grandsons William and Harry and shoot a magnificent stag to distract them (and him).

Screenwriter Peter Morgan III has provided many moments, bringing out Royal emotions buried under piles of protocol.

Driving alone in the moors of Balmoral, Elizabeth finds her vehicle stuck in a riverbed, when what should appear but Philip's beautiful buck. At the sound of gunshots, she shoos him away, only to turn to the camera and reveal a tear rolling down her cheek. Is she crying for the animal or Diana or her crumbling monarchy? Let's hope it is for a human being, other than herself.

Another simple but powerful episode comes as the Queen and company condescend to examine the flowers for Diana at the Palace gate. Seeing a little girl (Emmy Lou Harries) with a bouquet in the crowd, Elizabeth offers to place it for her.

The child refuses.

The Queen is taken aback, visibly hurt. The girl says, "No, they're for you." Elizabeth is moved...an emotional connection to the people.

The monarchy is validated.

Long live "The Queen."

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