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Miramax Pictures presents
The Queen (2006)

"No member of the royal family will speak publicly about this. This is a private matter."
- Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), immediately after the death of Diana

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 23, 2007

Stars: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allan, Sylvia Syms
Director: Stephen Frears

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Run Time: 01h:43m:17s
Release Date: April 24, 2007
UPC: 786936712414
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-A-B B+

DVD Review

It may be mere serendipity that Prince William and Katie Middleton broke up just days prior to the release date of this DVD, but it's only the latest instance of the apparently eternal fascination with the British royal family. Stephen Frears' very smart film looks at the most recent very public crisis weathered by the house of Windsor; you do on some level have to have a weakness for all things royal to love this movie, but even if you're a skeptic you're likely to find this quite entertaining on the soap opera level alone. Helen Mirren has been rightly lauded and given every conceivable award for her performance in the title role, and there's no denying that she's brilliant here—what she, Frears and everybody else on the project get just right is the spirit of Her Majesty and her family, far more important than letter-perfect imitation.

The bulk of the story unfolds over a single week, between the death of Diana in an automobile accident in Paris, and her funeral, and is essentially about the necessary elasticity shown by Elizabeth and her predecessors to keep the institution of the monarchy more or less intact. Elizabeth's disdain for her former daughter-in-law was no great secret, and the Queen seems to live in a very grand echo chamber—no one dares cross her or disagree with her, and her husband and her mother have made careers of putting the starch into their queen. Elizabeth has for most Britons been a difficult figure to love; she's been on the throne so long that for the younger generations she's the only monarch they have known, and at times it's hard not to see her as faintly ridiculous. The emphasis on procedure and protocol can seem stuffy if not downright oppressive; and yet Elizabeth is very serious indeed about her responsibility to be the very personification of the British people.

But as much as they respect their queen, the population loved Diana even more, especially in the hours and days after her death, when she was as much as canonized. Elizabeth's deliberate silence played out as her having a royal tin ear; she was sure that all this noise would pass, and the Queen Mother and Prince Philip kept telling her the same. It was left, then, to an interloper to suggest that Her Majesty might want to amplify her public presence—it's new Prime Minister Tony Blair who becomes modernity incarnate for Elizabeth, convincing the Queen that she must do more to assuage her public and get rid of the hateful headlines. (Similarly to Mirren, Michael Sheen has a strong if not uncanny resemblance to Blair, but he's awfully good at capturing the spirit of the man, swept into office to shake things up but unwilling to overturn the apple cart entirely. It's also a Blair unburdened by his commitment to George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, when the death of a princess was what passed for an international crisis. Weren't those the days.)

On some level, the question posed here is: how is this film different from the rash of trashy movies of the week, or even from the years' worth of lurid tabloid headlines, using the royals simply for gossip fodder? A sense of compassion is probably what separates this one out; it's easy to mock the royals, or to fall in line with worshiping them, but to see them as a family facing very familiar crises in a very public mode is actually quite moving. There's obvious comedy in seeing the Queen of England having car trouble, for instance, or watching TV in bed, like the rest of us; but Frears and screenwriter Stephen Morgan are surprisingly compassionate. Philip, for instance, could have come across as merely a bombastic fool, but as played by James Cromwell, he seems a misguided dolt, but not one with a hard heart—his principal concern immediately after Diana's death is for her sons. And Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mum has a ripping old time. Another of the questions persistently asked in the movie is: Is the monarchy worth saving? Well, if you're the Queen of England, obviously it is.

Occasionally the movie seems a bit too schematic—rather too much attention is given to a 14-point deer on the grounds at Balmoral, the Windsors' Scottish castle, and the symbolic value of the animal is overplayed; similarly, we get pretty quickly the contrast between dinner with Elizabeth and her family, on the one hand, and Blair and his, on the other, with his wife (deeply skeptical about the royals) and three young children creating typical pandemonium. But the compressed story line is very well chosen—certainly by the end of the week Elizabeth isn't all warm and cuddly, but she's shifted just enough to preserve her dignity and that of the institution she embodies. God save her.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Generally a very nice transfer, one that integrates the brief bits of contemporary news footage very well with the feature; the reds are especially well saturated, making the many Union Jacks pop right off the screen.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The balance seems to be a bit off on the 5.1 track, resulting in the bombastic music on the soundtrack being cranked up far too loudly and subsuming some of the dialogue, especially problematic as you will never see a film with more stiff upper lips.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Déjà Vu, Kyle XY Declassified, Roger Corman DVDs, Miramax DVDs, Ratatouille, Becoming Jane, Soap.net
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan (track one); royals expert Robert Lacey (track two)
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Frears and Morgan are a couple of cranky fellows on their commentary track; they sound like wonderful and fun guys, and are candid about what they wish they didn't have to cut, what they don't like so much, and what they have since learned is inaccurate. To work at such a high level and to remain so self-effacing is incredibly endearing, and pairing them on this track was somebody's very good idea. Royals expert Robert Lacey was a consultant on the film and flies solo; he spends much of his time on what's been gleaned in the public record about Elizabeth, notoriously tight-lipped about her private life. There's also a fair amount of Diana worship here, and talk about things like her "soft spot for gays." The Making of The Queen (19m:29s) features many clips along with interview footage of Frears, Morgan, Mirren, Sheen, Cromwell, producer Andy Harries, Alex Jennings (who plays Charles) and production designer Alan MacDonald. The bulk of the discussion is on impersonation, and on how to convey something about the character you're playing when he or she is such a public person.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

An affectionate portrait of a very public figure it's easy to respect but a bit difficult to love. Certainly it's Mirren's performance that is the most impressive aspect of the film; but Stephen Frears as he always does leads a production that's intelligent and compassionate without being condescending, treacly or rude. And the two commentary tracks provide illumination both about the filmmaking and the subject matter at hand.

 


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