~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


The Queen ~ Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Air Canada has this funky feature now (at least, on a few aircrafts, like the one on which we flew--which was virtually empty, so Tom and I were also able to stretch out a bit). On demand film that you can order up on your personal screen (fitted into the back of the seat of the person in front of you).

I ordered up "The Queen" (with Helen Mirren. Tom watched "Driving Miss Daisy" from the "classics" section). I thought it was excellent. Mirren's performance is masterful, restrained and deeply empathetic. It's strange seeing an enactment of such relatively recent events, involving high-profile, public figures, without their explicit consent. But the film itself, I thought was wonderfully done.

Elizabeth as played by Mirren is a woman who is deeply shy and reticent, shaped by public life into one who is deeply and profoundly devoted to duty and to her role and its responsibilities. One gets the sense she cannot understand someone like Diana, who is so ready to kick up the traces for personal enjoyment or fulfillment--and who is so indiscreet in her speech, so undignified in her manner.

Because Elizabeth is by nature so shy, she seems to retreat behind her facade of propriety--it's not that she doesn't feel deeply (we're not in doubt that she feels) but more that she is so buried in her role and so devoted to her responsibilities--and what she sees as the correct way of fulfilling them--that she had sublimated those emotions. She has used her passion to shape herself with immense discipline into an embodiment of what is right and proper.

I felt the portrayal was a very compassionate one--she misread the public sentiment in the aftermath of Diana's death because her whole sense of the monarcy was shaped by an outdated sensibility. But we never doubted her passion for what she had dedicated her life to. There were also some wonderfully played, cathartic moments--Tony Blair's outburst, for instance--that articulated exactly what I had begun to feel. And, too, there was a sense of genuine importance to the whole thing, even though it ended up being a flash in the pan event. During those moments, that week, for the characters involved, it felt as if the repercussions might be wide-ranging and profound. That was part of the power and urgency of it.

I also enjoyed the wry wit of the queen mother, as well as some of the behind-the-scenes outbursts of the various characters, who, despite their high status, seemed to live lives that were as routine as anyone else's--unspectacular and banal, even. The idea of the three royals (Elizabeth, Philip and the queen mum) sitting around watching the news to hear the latest about the Diana story and how it was all developing--as well as to learn about the prevailing climate among their subjects--was bizarre (one always imagines they have some sort of inner pipeline) and yet it also makes perfect sense. Why wouldn't they sit about watching the news, like everyone else?

I think the portrayals were ultimately sympathetic--Charles probably got the worst of it, with Philip a distant second. Everyone else--even Cherie Blair, despite her current unpopularity--really got a fair shake and a voice in the film. And even Charles, I suppose, had some element of sympathy to him--he seemed weak and under his mother's thumb, but he speak out for Diana and recognise what his mother could not.

There was one possible moment/motif where maybe they crossed the line into something more obvious--for thematic reasons--but even that is a niggle. All in all, a wonderful, beautifully crafted and nuanced film. Helene Mirren inhabited the role--the glamourous actress disappeared and there was the Queen in her stead. A Queen that I for one came to really care about and respect deeply as an incredibly strong, dignified and loyal servant of the people, even when they themselves didn't appreciate the depth of her devotion and her sublimation of self to the role she had to play. Assuming it's anywhere near to the truth (it certainly felt marvellously convincing--if not true, then a terribly good guess), it's a powerful and passionate portrait.

And I thought Mirren did a wonderful job as the first Elizabeth! That, I think, was the easier task because we don't have any live-action presence for Elizabeth I with which to compare Mirren's portrayal. With this, we do, and yet, she still managed to pull it off with grace and empathy.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:05 PM::::


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Anduril Elessar
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