|Written by Christopher Joseph|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007|
“The Queen,” or more aptly titled, “How Tony Blair saved the Royal Family’s reputation,” is a subtle yet engaging examination of the events following the tragic death of Princess Diana. Focusing on the reactions of Queen Elizabeth II and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan tell a story of how class, politics and even celebrity dictated the course of events following Diana’s death.
Employing a sort of docu-drama approach, the filmmakers use archival news footage in conjunction with the story to achieve a behind-the-scenes feel. While the footage of Diana is very personal and emotional at times, the filmmakers always stay on the side of good taste, never once succumbing to the temptations of tabloid-style trash. Throw in an assortment of phenomenal performances by Michael Sheen, James Cromwell and Oscar winner Helen Mirren, and “The Queen” is easily one of the best pictures of 2006.
The film opens with Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) posing stoically for a painting on Election Day. This allows Mirren the opportunity to establish two very important things: First, we see that she looks the part; all the mannerisms, posture and quirks are done to perfection. Second, she brings life and personality to the role. Though forever in the public eye, the real life Elizabeth II has always been a private woman, taking tradition and professionalism very seriously. In “The Queen” we get a look behind the curtain, a sort of exposé of the Royal Family. In this opening scene, Elizabeth, almost thinking out loud, talks to the painter about her envy for the fact that he can vote. It’s this casual simplicity that gives the film and Mirren’s performance a sense of depth and realism unseen in most biopics.
Fresh off a landslide victory, newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) arrives for the traditional audience with the Queen where he is to be invited to form a new government. Blair is obviously nervous; giddy as a school boy while his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory) is the more skeptical type, not so enamored by the monarchy or tradition. The meeting is short, but sets the tone for the relationship between Blair and the Queen. Blair is open and fresh, whereas the Queen remains dry, as if she’s running through the motions yet again while always maintaining an air of superiority. She truly is, the Queen.
Soon thereafter, news reports flood in that Diana, Princess of Wales, has been injured in a high-speed car accident. Assuming this is just another public relations nightmare, the Royal Family sits around in their pajamas watching the news throughout the night, wondering what Diana has gotten herself into this time. The news turns out to be more serious than expected, when confirmation comes in that Diana along with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and driver, Henri Paul, did not survive the crash.
The rest of the story deals with the week following the tragedy, and how the Queen and Tony Blair chose to approach it. For the Queen, Diana had been long divorced from Prince Charles and was no longer officially a member of the Royal Family. Therefore, sponsoring the funeral and making any sort of public address and acknowledgement was not within tradition or protocol. Tony Blair takes a more sensitive approach to the public’s devastation and sees that this is a unique situation where, because of Diana’s celebrity, the world felt an especially deep personal connection with her.
The Queen stands firm on her decision to mourn in private, and as a result the royal family comes under public criticism for being cold and insensitive. Blair sees the possible repercussions this could have on the monarchyand does everything he can to sway the Queen to address the public, while still trying not to overstep his boundaries. Over the course of the film, Blair comes to understand that it may not be that the Queen is a cold individual, but rather a bit out of touch with the more modern socio-political climate.
Presented in 1:1.85 aspect ratio and utilizing the VC-1 codec, “The Queen” sports one of the best transfers I’ve seen on Blu-ray to date. Stephen Frears and cinematographer Affonso Beato chose to shoot all the scenes involving the Royal Family on 35mm while all the scenes involving Tony Blair are shot on 16mm. The purpose was to give a contrast in feel between their two worlds. One is pristine and immaculate, the other more organic and down to earth. Even though the 16mm scenes have a bit more grain, they still look fantastic and deliver the tone intended by the filmmakers while not jumping out at the viewer. The 35mm footage on the other hand is absolutely stunning. The detail and clarity is superior to anything I’ve reviewed thus far. The costume and set design mixed with the beautiful cinematography make for very clean and pretty pictures, free from any noticeable video noise and artifacts.
Sporting a 16 bit uncompressed PCM 5.1 track, “The Queen” is a character-and dialogue-driven film, so crazy sound effects and over-the-top channel movement is almost non-existent. The important stuff is here though. Dialogue is always clean and clear with nice subtle ambience (which is accurate and distinct to each location) throughout. If you’re looking to test drive your new sound system, look elsewhere.
There’s not an over-abundance of special features, but at least everything from the standard DVD has been carried over to the Blu-ray release. First up, is a nineteen-minute featurette entitled, “The Making of The Queen.” This isn’t your usual EPK fluff piece, but rather an informative collection of interviews with the cast discussing their individual portrayals and the approach they took in researching and playing their characters. Next up, is a commentary track with the writer and director, failing to really cover any new ground not already mentioned in the film and featurette. They offer up some interesting tidbits but ultimately come up silent, leaving the viewer to simply watch the film again. The second commentary track, and the last of the special features with historian Robert Lacey, are full of interesting, little-known information regarding the Royal Family. If you have to choose one of these commentary tracks, go with Robert Lacey. A lot more engaging with a lot less dead air.
“The Queen” is a wonderful moderately paced drama, told through revealing sections that make the viewer feel as though they have VIP access to eavesdrop on people previously only seen through news snippets and tabloids. If you’re looking for over the top, highly fictionalized docu-drama, you’ve come to the wrong place. The characters and events are handled with the utmost of care and taste, resulting in a truly great film. Add a pristine transfer, and this is a release I feel confident recommending to anyone browsing around at the video store.