Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, seems to be as far elevated above our consciousnesses as her position is elevated above our own. An aging woman commanding a decomposing system of rule, she is the mother of a cowardly weasel of a prince and the wife of an adulterous geriatric.
Yet director Stephen Frear and writer Peter Morgan’s version of The Queen is imbued with such heart, depth and – dare I say it – wit, that it is impossible not to find virtue in her.
Primarily chronicling the week following the death of Princess Diana, the film presents a side of the titular Queen (Helen Mirren) previously unseen by such lowly commoners as ourselves.
Through her strained dealings with new Prime Minister Tony Blair and her interactions with family (Sylvia Syms is both charming and affecting as the Queen Mother) and the press, we are able to see the trials involved in maintaining such stoic dignity. Mirren’s performance is subdued and nuanced, creating ranges of heartfelt emotion with the simple twitch of an eyebrow or the fall of a foot.
The performance of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair is equally commendable, his uncanny resemblance to the Prime Minister only the starting point of a triumphant and sensitive performance.
While there is no way to verify the accuracy of the events, the film stands on its own as an affecting story of dignity and restraint in the face of accusation, propaganda, and the potential wickedness of politics, not to mention the feeling of helplessness when one realises one may not be as understanding of her world as one once thought.
Another strength of the film is its refusal to take sides. Every character has his or her own reasons for acting, and their own benefits to gain and advantages to lose. Tony Blair is no less a person than Her Majesty, simply the flipside of a spinning coin, and those caught in the wake of the events are drawn with sensitivity, regardless of which way they would like the coin to fall.
Its power draws from its unrelenting intent to present the story of a lady in crisis, her world thrown into sudden turmoil, and is, overwhelmingly, a success.