Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is Britain For Me? Not If The Dull The Queen Is Any Indication!

The Good: Acting
The Bad: Lack of compelling plot, Dull characters, Pacing is deathly slow
The Basics: Dull, plodding along and essentially British, The Queen has inspired performances but little else, including a lack of entertainment or educational value.

Every now and then I have a feeling I am watching a film that is too soon, too specific and too weird for my comprehension in relation to the rest of the world. When The Queen began to get rave reviews by almost every critic I could find, I began to wonder what was so great about the movie. All I knew about it was that the film was about Queen Elizabeth (II, the current one) and how she reacted to the death of Princess Diana when Di was killed in the late '90s in a car accident as a result of being chased by the paparazzi. Sadly, the plot is grossly overstated in such a phrasing.

Shortly after Tony Blair is elected Prime Minister of England and assumes the reins of government, he finds himself deeply intertwined with the royal family when Princess Diana abruptly dies in a car accident. Blair begins to express his sorrow for the nation's loss while the Queen remains publicly silent on the issue. The Queen decides that the grief the family feels ought to be kept private and that because Princess Diana no longer was a royal (following her divorce from Charles), she was not entitled to royal treatment and/or burial. While Blair and Prince Charles try to convince her to adapt to changing times, the Queen spends a week debating whether or not to address the public about the death of Diana.

The entire plot is the belaboring of a decision and as an American, it's terribly hard to see the appeal of a film where someone takes a week to make up their mind as to whether to speak or not. Already I envision the next Morgan/Frears hit wherein the Queen Mother spends a week deciding whether or not to eat a cookie. As cruel as it may sound, the belaboring of the decision feels analogous in The Queen. The Queen is clinging to tradition and the reticence that is befitting her post. I can dig that as a character aspect, but making a movie over people's reaction to grief seems dull and cheesy for a real-life event so close to it (and timed so appropriately to the descent of Tony Blair).

The reticence of the Queen makes the British people begin once again to doubt the necessity of the monarchy and, again, as an American, I find the whole debate pointless and silly. Even more unfortunate in both reality and in the film is the way decisions are all absolutes. I'm going to ignore reality from here on out (this is a historical fiction/drama, more than a documentary and simply by the way some of the scenes are filmed there are obvious extrapolations) and simply focus on the film, so when I talk about characters, live with it, please. The characters in The Queen are caught in ridiculous dialectics where everything is framed in black and white and the damage this does to the story is extensive.

The Queen is obsessed with maintaining tradition and the badge of office. Tony Blair is concerned with keeping the citizenry on his side and he savvily observes their moods and understands their need to express their grief. But the movie soon degenerates into ridiculous and pointless debates about protocol and the belaboring making a decision. Blair counsels the Queen to speak to the British people, she resists.

I suppose to the British, this sort of thing is important, but I tend to live with the idea that I do not need others to tell me how to feel (or suggest how I ought to cope). As a result, the hours it takes in real time and the days it takes cinematically for this decision to be made feels like a waste of time.

But then there's the real problem; the Queen goes through this immense and pointless debate for one reason: she is clinging to tradition and as such seeks to maintain the power of the throne. Why then does she eventually capitulate on all fronts? The people want a flag flown at half-mast above the palace; the flag is only flown when the royals are home. As a result, when they go on holiday in the country, there's no flag flown. Even if the Queen capitulates to appearing before the British people, why doesn't she just explain, "This is how the flag works. Live with it." Instead, the whole debate becomes pointless when what she seeks to protect through her reticence is gutted by her complete capitulation.

No wonder the British lost respect for their monarch.

The purpose of debating the entire lack of plot of The Queen is that the film is plot-heavy with no plot (decision belabored; that's what the movie is about) and to illustrate the fact that The Queen is not entertaining. It's not terribly enlightening; I could have read a magazine article, a newspaper article, or a one-paragraph blog that would have told me all of the key information presented in this film and lost nothing and saved a couple of hours.

But then, I would not have had the crazy-boring British experience.

I also would not have been able to watch Helen Mirren perform. Mirren plays The Queen and her performance outshines the character. I had recently seen Mirren in The Clearing (reviewed here!) and Painted Lady (reviewed here!) and what impressed me about this movie was that her portrayal of the Queen was so dramatically different from her performance in either other movie that it astonished me to think she was the same actress. If one must watch a woman working to make a decision on screen for a couple of hours, this would seem to be the actress to do it.

The real winner is actor Michael Sheen who plays Tony Blair and who holds his own opposite Mirren. In all honesty, all of the fuss over Mirren as the Queen led to a neglect of Sheen. I've seen a great deal of footage of Blair and Sheen has him pegged. He looks like him (enough), sounds like him and carries himself with the same posture and self-assured body language. The movie makes Blair out as the reasonable hero and Sheen embodies that perfectly. Sheen is so good in this that he redeems himself for appearing in Underworld (reviewed here!).

On DVD, there was a commentary track and previews (sorry, I cannot say how decent the commentary was as I was so bored with the movie that I wasn't about to rewatch it to hear British people blather on more about it). The packaging is nice, though.

In all, though, The Queen benefited from the hype that surrounded it, but it ends up as a film that has great actors playing marginal characters in a situation so dull as to make it difficult to believe it was put on screen. It certainly did not deserve to be nominated for Best Picture; fortunately, it did not win.

For other works with Helen Mirren, check out my reviews of:
Glee - Season 3
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Gosford Park


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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