Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Sylvia Syms, Helen McCrory
Direction: Stephen Frears
Rating: * * *1/2
For an Oscar winner, The Queen comes to town quite late in the day. But then, Best Actress Helen Mirren in the title role doesn’t exactly fit the box-office bill here — she isn’t a Hollywood star. Had director Stephen Frears played to the gallery in interpreting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the local trade would have still warmed up to his effort much earlier (case in point: this year’s other big ‘non-star’ Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in the multiplex box-office friendly The Last King Of Scotland, which opened during the Oscar week itself).
Rather, Frears chooses to unfold an enigma of a biopic — an unapologetically niche piece that keeps its stiff-Brit-upper-lip refinement intact all through. Not exactly the kind of cinema that’s high up in the cineplex list of priorities here.
Frears’ novelty lies in his departure from the tested biopic trail. This is exactly the Queen you didn’t expect to see. Emotionally drained, vulnerably human, forced against the wall by the very people who deify her — Frears peels his Queen of every make-up of power.
<b1>Without doubt, this must rank among the best celluloid character sketches ever. There is not much of a plot in The Queen, and the narrative following one of British royalty’s most tumultuous phases in recent history, becomes a powerful screenplay that lets Dame Helen Mirren play the field.
Mirren lives up to it, fleshing out wit, compassion, misery, cunning and character in a protagonist who, in the end of the day, bears the triple load of being ruler, mother and wife.
The year is 1997. Princess Diana has just passed away in a tragic car accident. For obvious reasons, the Queen wants to play down the incident as a personal tragedy for the royal family.
Thousands of Diana’s admirers will have none of it — they want an ostentatious public burial, a display of mourning. As the tension escalates to national proportions, the Queen’s dilemma largely unfolds through her interactions with Prime Minister Tony Blair (superbly portrayed by Michael Sheen). In effect, the film becomes a ringside view of a real-life crisis that went on behind the Windsor curtains.
The Queen works as intelligent cinema because of the raw realism it fascinatingly portrays. It peddles the lesser-known aspect of a slice of history that was already well-known, well-documented. That in itself becomes the USP of Frears’ latest film. Of course, there’s Mirren in the end — majestic, magical as ever.