I went to see The Queen last night, which is about the Queen and Tony Blair in the week after Diana’s death. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting.
I couldn’t help thinking that a film about one of the biggest and most relentlessly commented on news stories of the past ten years was unlikely to offer much of a surprise. And it didn’t, really. The details have obviously just been made up, and who knows how close they are to what happened, but the presentation isn’t a particularly radical one. But it was well written, looked great (not least because so much of the action took place either in the Scottish Highlands or royal palaces) and had some amusing moments, mainly to do with the bubble of anachronistic weirdness that surrounds the Queen.
And most of all, I thought Helen Mirren as her Maj and Michael Sheen as Blair both did a good job of presenting them as human and likeable while treading the fine line between acting and doing an impression. There are lots of films that require actors to play famous people, of course, but it must be unusual to play someone quite so familiar who is still alive and still in the news all the time. Sheen was the more like of the two, and captured the newly elected Blair (rather different to the current model), but as a result occasionally strayed close to caricature. I never quite felt with Mirren that I was watching the Queen; there’s not much of a physical resemblance and she avoided doing that strangulatingly posh voice the Queen has. But it worked as a performance anyway. Of course most of the supporting parts are pretty famous too — Philip, Charles, the Queen Mother, Cherie, Alastair Campbell — and so the likeness or, more often, unlikeness of their performances was often a touch distracting. Diana only appeared in archive film and the young princes barely appeared and didn’t have speaking parts. That’s probably a good decision: keep the focus on the Queen and Blair.
At one point in the film, the Queen is watching that awful, coy, manipulative Diana interview with Martin Bashir. Every time I see it it makes my skin crawl, despite the fact that I can’t stand Prince Charles and I think Diana was completely shafted by the system. Who knows what the situation would be like today if she hadn’t died; what she’d be up to, and how well the Royal family would be coping. Even without Diana as a constant presence offstage, I think Charles will find his mother a hard act to follow. There’s so little support for abolishing the monarchy that it feels inevitable that they’ll be around for ever. But perhaps all it would take would be one disastrous incumbent to change the mood; Charles just might have the potential to be that person.