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Queen, The (DVD Review)

15 Apr, 2007 By: John Latchem

Street 4/24/07
Box Office $56.2 million

$29.99 DVD
Rated ‘PG-13' for brief strong language.
Stars Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms, Alex Jennings.

The quiet tug between modernism and tradition is at play in The Queen, an excellent film that uses the extraordinary occasion of Princess Diana's death in 1997 to examine the monarchy's role in a populist society.

By protocol, Diana no longer was a royal, yet she had been elevated in the hearts and minds of the people in a world dominated by pop culture and paparazzi. This popularity was lost on the royal family, which knew a very different Diana.

When “The People's Princess” died, Elizabeth II chose to continue her vacation at the spacious Balmoral Castle in Scotland. New prime minister Tony Blair could see what the queen could not, that the people had turned to the royals to guide them in a time of grief. He acted quickly to stem the tide of resentment, even while those around him were less than supportive of the old aristocracy.

The truth of the situation is not conveyed in the minutiae of what really happened, according to writer Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears in their DVD commentary. While they pick apart the technical accuracy of the film, they conclude that the plausibility of the behind-the-scenes moments is what matters most. More insightful is a second commentary, with royal-expert Robert Lacey, who fills in some of the history alluded to in the film.

The dichotomy between the lifestyles of Blair and Elizabeth II almost could be seen as a farce of the British system of constitutional monarchy. The queen has no real power, fulfilling a symbolic role as the representative of the people, advancing to her position through virtue of her birth.

It's easy for Americans to scratch their heads. We declared these people irrelevant more than 230 years ago. To the British, however, the royal family is a living monument to centuries of national pride. No one has the heart to get rid of them.

Mirren is making a habit of her royal performances, having won an Emmy for playing Elizabeth I in the 2005 HBO miniseries of the same name.

Here, she embodies Elizabeth II so perfectly that we forget her portrayal is a fictionalized version. Her best-actress Oscar win was well deserved, but really all the acting is spot-on.

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