Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Viva la Queen!

Oscar pool tip: It's Helen Mirren, all the way. I'll be surprised (and will rise up in arms) if she doesn't get it. Every acting prize this year, in fact, belongs to her miraculous perfomance as Elizabeth II.
The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, and expertly written by Peter Morgan, is a delightfully elegant satire, a surprisingly complex film. I was expecting a fun, broad skewering of the royals; and it is certainly fun, but it isn't broad. I did not expect such grace and humanity from a satire, and such intelligent restraint.
The movie is as much about the crisis of the British monarchy because of their tone deaf handling of the death of Diana, as it is about the disappointment of Blair's promise, the increasing irrelevance of the monarchy, the nature of duty and power, protocol and politics, and about the transformation of this world into a vulgar media spectacle. It is a highly satisfying movie with many levels to parse. And if you just want to have a good time peering into the private lives of the royals, you can too.
The Queen is less about what happened ten years ago, than about the state of England now. And as such, it strikes a somewhat elegiac, bitter tone for what should have been. It shows a bright, eager and naturally attuned Tony Blair (fabulously portrayed by Michael Sheen), who started out his mandate by doing a most extraordinary bit of public relations. Basically, because of his intuitive, compassionate handling of the death of that insufferable pest, he had all of England eating from his hand. One cannot help but sigh as you see him handle this crisis so well, (which today seems utterly banal, as crises go), being so attuned to the mood of his people, almost singlehandedly saving the monarchy from imploding, and then realize that he wasted all the good faith of his country through a misguided, hubristic allegiance to George Bush. He seems to be as tone deaf to the will of his people about the war in Iraq, as the Queen was about the death of Diana. Except that the war in Iraq is a far more serious matter. The parallel is brilliant and it stings. There is a wonderful scene where he defends the Queen from the scathing sarcasm of his colleagues. Evidently, as the man in charge he identifies with the woman in charge. He is mesmerized by the allure of the monarchy, the mystique of such ritualistic, almost God-given power. Such is the seductive nature of power, which must be why some of those who are in power are also in bed with others in power they shouldn't be touching with a ten foot pole.
In the end, the movie is not that kind to him. Just to look at him then and to see him now is rather sad.
About Diana, I think the film gets it quite right. If anybody was a selfmade creature born of the constant necessity of media attention, it was her. I never swallowed her beatific little act. I don't begrudge her her many acts of charity, but it always seemed to me they were narcissistic, selfserving. In the film they show that famous interview where she bats her eyelashes innocently and claims she wants to be the queen of the hearts of the people, or some such patently manipulative rubbish like that. Today the footage looks like a performance, calculated and maudlin. It's hard to believe people fell for it. Fittingly, of all the historical people in her saga, she is the only one in the movie who appears as herself always through the eye of a camera. She is only real when scrutinized by the media. Obviously, what made her death so fascinating was that her end was so apt to her story. She lived by the cameras and she died by them. The film posits the idea that Diana actually usurped the role of the Queen. While the Queen was mired in dusty protocol, and chose to live her very public life in as much privacy as possible, with a just disdain for the media circus that her daughter in law craved, Diana basically took it upon herself to act like a fairy tale princess for this age, with spectacular results. She stole the love of the Queen's subjects. The disenchantment and disappointment in the Queen's face when she registers this fact not only moved me deeply, but it is one of the many beautiful moments of Helen Mirren's incredibly human, funny, precise performance.

No comments:

Post a Comment