Saturday, 21 November 2009

For The Record

I quite like our dearest Queen Betty the Second. I think her existence is... nice. Truly. I like the tradition and the formality and the fact that, in reality, there is no true point to her. I like that. Like Victoria Beckham, but with more longevity and probably a bit more poise. (Though don't get me started on Victoria Beckham - mostly I'm in love with her because she just shouldn't exist. And the fact that she does is hysterical.)

But this is not the point. The point is that I've added The Queen to my ticked off list of films that I have watched in the early stages of this marathon.

Stephen Frears' 2006 film gave the Helen Mirren an Oscar for her titular role, and was, in its own quiet and very British way, a little controversial in its examination of the week following the death of the people's princess, Lady Di. Mirren's Betty II and family (James Cromwell as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Charles, Sylvia Sims as the Queen Mother) decided to treat the untimely and enormously publicised death as a private matter until her popularity plummeted and, at the behest of Michael Sheen's Tony Blair (newly elected as PM of the ol' UK), decided to return to Buck Pal to make a statement and appear with her people.

I think the real appeal of this film was the fact that it delved into the protocol of the Crown here in England. Dealing with the death of a former royal was 'unprecedented.' The royal family (I'm sure that's meant to be capitalised, but it looked funny so I changed it) didn't see it as appropriate because she was no longer a royal, despite the fact that she was the mother of the third (and, I assume, fourth) in line to the throne. The Queen wouldn't even let Prince Chuck take the royal plane to Paris when Di was in hospital because it wasn't a matter of state. (Please note that all of this is based on what happened in the film - I'm not sure what was fudged.)

However, dear Betty was, technically, correct, I imagine, in saying and behaving the way she did. In terms of protocol. What she had failed to realise is that Di was at the forefront of massive celebrity culture around the world. Coins were minted in the honour of her wedding back in '81. She was followed relentlessly by paparazzi. And she died tragically, suddenly and unexpectedly at the height of another scandal.

This is what the film portrays. A monarch who at that point had been on the throne for 45 years, and hadn't managed to keep up with the way the public were now behaving. Protocol be damned! Put up the standard at Buck Pal and then lower it to half-mast, goddamit, because that's what we want! And then the tabloids keep going and going, running it until the public is at near breaking point.

Mirren does dear Betty very well. Not much of what you imagine (or hope) must be inside the real person escapes in any large fashion, but glimpses are allowed through her incredibly stoic exterior to give an almost humanising portrayal of one of the biggest closed-books I know of. Sheen was an amazing support (almost lead... almost) with his Blair portrayal, coming up against party politics, his young relationship with the Queen as her appointee to lead the country, and against his own wife's differing opinions.

I did, however, find myself at the end of the film without a great deal to say about it. It was a nice film, anchored by a couple of great performances and an interesting story that I remember vividly, but it just didn't seem to... do anything. Which was fine. But I think it was ultimately a piece designed around the exploration of a character who can't really be explored that deeply without making things up - obviously, that wouldn't have gone down well.

Frears has made some better films, I think. His previous, Mrs Henderson Presents (with her TRUE highness, Judi Dench) I adored much more than The Queen. It was a nice film, similar to the Queen's existence, but I'm not ranking it much higher than that. 3 stars.

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