Monday, February 05, 2007

The Queen

by jaydro
It's taken me forever to see this, as it came to arthouse theaters here last fall, and it premiered in Puerto Rico the weekend I left (I honestly thought it would be interesting to see both The Queen and The Last King of Scotland with Spanish subtitles, but alas ;-) ), and now it's migrated into multiplexes. I would have posted a comment to the previous thread that included this film and some comments on it, but I've done that before to old posts and the comment seemingly goes into oblivion (except that Brian might notice it).

I loved it. Now that's not to say I think it's a great film, and I can see watching it over only in some edited version that removes all the extraneous documentary footage of Diana, because I was getting very tired of that. But as a sort of "The West Wing" meets the Royals, I thought it was very well done.

My viewing companion had a more mixed reaction, while agreeing that it was good, but was too turned off by further dwelling on the death of Diana. She had thought that the plot sounded like something completely uninteresting to her, but sometimes the plot doesn't matter if the film is good enough and you can just admire the acting and the craft of the film, but in this case she thought the plot did matter.

Maybe I have a bit more fascination with the royal family. While all the hub-bub over the death of Diana caused irreparable damage to my opinion of what was then supposed to be serious news media (Time magazine had her death on their US cover two weeks in a row!), I was also someone who had gotten up early to watch her wedding live on television.

And while I'm against a flag-burning ban amendment to the Constitution, I also complain about businesses and organizations that bother to fly the flag but can't seem to do it properly--something that comes to light most starkly when we have any situation calling for flags at half-staff. I guess that's just the old Cub Scout in me. And so there was one moment in The Queen that definitely had me, when there was all the back-and-forth over the flag at Buckingham Palace.

At first while watching the film I thought, oh, yes, as with Forest Whitaker and The Last King of Scotland, Helen Mirren is giving a performance that, while not her best, is certainly showy in just the right way to get an Oscar. And by showy in this case I obviously don't mean the sort of visibly straining neck muscles and throbbing temples bit, nor do I mean Nick's observation that she's showing off how well she renders internal conflict, but rather that she's playing the reigning British monarch in a front-and-center starring role, and doing it rather believably. But as the film went on I came to think that she was actually doing such a subtly good job, and I found myself particularly affected by the two scenes in which she's looking at the flowers left for Diana.

When was the last time the roles of "king" and queen both won Best Acting Oscars the same year?

The contrast between the lives of the Queen and Prime Minister Blair also left me to ponder if we're really better off in the US for not having a monarchy, for we tend far too much to elevate the President to that role, when we might be better served by having someone in that role who possesses no real power, and leave the business of running the country to someone who is not entitled to the royal treatment. Of course, we could take the route of those countries that elect a figurehead head-of-state without having a monarchy....

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21 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

I found myself particularly affected by the two scenes in which she's looking at the flowers left for Diana.

Been a few months since I saw it, but that's what sticks out for me, as well. The scene in front of the palace, especially.

Of course, we could take the route of those countries that elect a figurehead head-of-state without having a monarchy....

I'd prefer not having a figurehead, but I don't think I'd mind a more parliamentary way of electing the president. It's borderline absurd that we have a president that only about 1/3 of the population seems to approve of, but we have no way to get rid of him for two years besides an impeachment process that sounds simple but is almost completely unworkable in real life.

2/05/2007 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

What sticks with me is her encounter with the stag, which on paper sounds ludicrous but really worked on screen.

I thought the film was ultimately about time: the inevitable crumbling and death of traditions, no matter how old or venerated.

2/06/2007 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Professor Wagstaff said...

Good timing that this thread was posted now as I just saw the film 24 hours ago.

My reaction to the film was a bit similar to 'Little Miss Sunshine' - a definitely above average film with many fine qualities but there should be better films then this vying for the Best Picture Oscar. Having said that, Helen Mirren was exceptional and would be fully deserving of her Oscar.

I guess the most striking thing for me in the film was Tony Blair, in particular his wife's comment that when push comes to shove, Labor PM's are always grovelling to the monarchy. The film really put this across very well. When there was no pressure on, Blair was delivering all the right soundbites and noises about how he was going to modernise England and the monarchy was a tired institution but when push comes to shove, he was amongst its strongest defenders. The way his behaviour towards the Queen changed from bemusement and contempt to fawning and awe was very convincing and well done.

On a side note, did anyone find it disconcerting how the actor playing Prince Charles looked nothing like him? One of these days I'll start a thread on here about actors who look nothing like the real-life figures they portray in films.

2/06/2007 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I liked the stag bit, too, because it seemed to work on a couple of levels, with the Queen's feelings about the stag perhaps cluing her in to how the public could be so upset about Diana, and that the stag also seemed to be symbolic of royalty and/or the Queen herself.

Jackrabbit, traditions also grow in popularity and become more entrenched, to the point where sometimes it can become hard to separate a tradition from a fad. I'm thinking about the growth in public symbols of grief in the US over the past fifteen years or so, with impromptu roadside memorials and black armbands, initials, etc. on athletic uniforms (there was one point where I swear there was some basketball team that was wearing two black bands plus someone's initials). Maybe that's lessened somewhat in recent years, but sometimes people seem to think they're observing some tradition when in fact no such tradition existed or they've gone way overboard with it--like the film's depiction of the public demands for the flag at half-staff at Buckingham Palace.

I thought Prince Charles looking nothing like the real Charles was disconcerting because everyone else seemed to look so much like the real people in comparison.

2/06/2007 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Jaydro, what I was really referring to was a monarchy that thinks what worked in 1066 works today, when obviously it can't. What this film so eloquently showed us was a monarch who came to understand that, however reluctantly.

2/06/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I wouldn't say that the actor playing Charles looked a lot like Charles, but it was close enough that I knew who he was on first sight in the trailer. So, close enough that it didn't bother me at all.

I don't really think that Sheen looks like Blair, though, either.

2/06/2007 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

This discussion sure went ahead fast.

Part that to me stuck out most was the scene where Blair first met the Queen.

The so different and in many aspects strange expectations, and obvious tensions, between those two rulers, like Jackrabbit mentioned, the old traditions versus modernisation. Their hesitation back and forth, and how Blair, smiling sheepishly, ultimately just bends the knee, because there's not much else he can do, and the old lady just stands there, hand outstretched expecting nothing else, even if her looking away suggests, even she finds the whole thing somewhat silly. Just a great scene.

But the stag bit is very good as well. The scene where the Queen Mother finds out they're using her funeral arrangements sticks out as well.

I think your description, Jaydro, of the straining neck muscles, the pauses, swallowing, the darting eyes, and strained facial expressions, is closer to what I tried to say about this being show-off, since, like you said, she has the center role and most of the close-ups.

I thought Sheen was as near Blair as an actor is likely to get. But the Prince Charles actor didn't look like the real deal at all. Maybe he had the voice. Never heard Prince Charles speak.

Film has been growing on me lately.

2/06/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Jackrabbit, yeah, I understood what you meant (though I might have picked 1215 instead of 1066! ;-) ), but I was just trying to show how the film also showed the flipside of the decline of tradition--the rise of new traditions! (Or popular fads?)

And Nick, when I was talking about straining neck muscles and throbbing temples I meant to bring to mind the more histrionic sort of stuff you'd see with people getting drunk and yelling and fighting etc. that used to win awards for their very showiness. But whatever. :-)

I thought the Prince Charles actor perhaps did capture his voice or inflection, yeah.

And my viewing companion has a standing complaint that you see the same British actors and actresses turning up in everything because there are precisely ten British actors and ten British actresses available for work at any given time, so it was refreshing to see an American playing Prince Philip. ;-)

Maybe this movie is better than I thought. While watching it I had forgotten it was nominated for Best Picture and was just thinking about Helen Mirren. It was just all those damn clips of Diana were a bit too much for me.

2/06/2007 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I meant to bring to mind the more histrionic sort of stuff you'd see with people getting drunk and yelling and fighting etc. that used to win awards for their very showiness.

Well, that's what I agreed with. It's like that kind of acting without the shouting, the fighting and the drunkenness. Without the wild gestures, but still showy.

2/06/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Part that to me stuck out most was the scene where Blair first met the Queen.

Hey, was her reaction to his hand kiss because he wasn't supposed to actually touch his mouth to her hand? Or was it just that he didn't keep his lips tightly closed enough? I thought the former, but I'm not certain of the etiquette regarding the prime minister and queen.... And some (re)viewers seem to have interpreted her reaction on different grounds (she's slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, overall embarrassment for Blair's clumsiness in ceremony, etc.).

2/06/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Hey, was her reaction to his hand kiss because...

All those things?

2/06/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Well, darn, I was hoping that a palace guard could give me the definitive answer. ;-)

2/06/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Dude, in Sweden they just shake hands.

2/06/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

On a side-note; the most talked about for Best Picture right now are Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed and Babel. But isn't there a likelihood of The Queen snatching it? Of course, it hasn't snatched any of the big critics or guild awards as far as I'm aware, but it does have many of those classic film qualities that the Academy so seems to treasure. I mean, how talked about was Shakespeare In Love?

2/06/2007 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

My hunch is that The Queen is running fifth in this race. Why? Hard to pin down. I think it suffers from being on too small a scale, almost like a TV movie.

2/07/2007 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

My memory is that Shakespeare in Love was a popular indy film in the manner of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (arthouse cinema owners loved the crowds they drew), but with the added pedigree of a script by Tom Stoppard full of sly in-jokes to entertain those familiar with the literary scene of Shakespeare's time. When you put that up against the dour Elizabeth, the flipside pairing of Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, plus Life is Beautiful, well, it's really not too big a surprise that Shakespeare won. I loved it at the time, but I only ever saw it once, which I did not expect. But I guess that says something.

I think The Queen has a much tougher row to hoe. To me it looks like Babel vs. The Departed, with Babel having the edge. But how many different pronunciations of that title will we hear on Oscar night? I'm all for BAY-ble.

2/07/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I prefer the BAY-ble pronunciation too, but I've given up that fight, and have been using "babble" so that people know what the hell I'm talking about.

My impression is that Letters is probably least likely to win right now, followed by Sunshine, Babel, Queen and Departed. But I think the difference in odds between 1 and 5 is very small. Most years you have 2, maybe 3, that are contenders, and 2 or 3 that have no chance. This year it seems all five have a chance.

2/07/2007 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Wagstaff said...

Agree with JR's comment. I don't necessarily mean this as a putdown, but I feel that (especially in its subject manner) it really would've worked better on the small screen.

2/07/2007 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I get the impression Letters has no chance. Unless one would see it as a combined work with Flags, then it's sort of an achievement, I suppose. But Flags didn't get nominated, right? Not for any of the big awards, anyway. So I get the impression of Letters running fifth.

The Queen, on the other hand, has nominations in many of the bigger divisions. According to MCN it is the second best critically received film of the year, after United 93.

And the TV putdown I don't get. It would've worked better if it was filmed with television adapted cameras? Or as a series? Wouldn't it have been too long? How can any film's format otherwise be better adapted for the small screen. I apply 'better fitted for the small screen' only if it's not worth it for the big screen. You mean that?

Last, I have a very hard time imagining AMPAS members, as I imagine them being in my head, sitting with their vouchers and choosing The Departed as Best Picture. My mind just blocks at the image. Babel (in Sweden we say Baah-Bel!) maybe, but not so much.

On the other hand, maybe some of the LotR logic could be applied to Inarritu, this being the third of his Arriaga everything-is-connected trilogy. That I would practically applaud.

2/07/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Wagstaff said...

And the TV putdown I don't get. It would've worked better if it was filmed with television adapted cameras? Or as a series? Wouldn't it have been too long? How can any film's format otherwise be better adapted for the small screen. I apply 'better fitted for the small screen' only if it's not worth it for the big screen. You mean that?

I really didn't have a specific reason at the time when I wrote that, I guess it was my sixth sense about the film (and I suppose what my assumptions are about what should and shouldn't be on the big screen).

When I first heard about the film I didn't find the plot beforehand that interesting - the main reason I went because I knew my Mum would be interested in it and I hardly ever go to the films with her.

I think it could've worked better as a TV mini-series where aspects which were more or less ignored in the film - like the phenomenon of adulation and remorse about Princess Di's death which was the most amazing thing about the whole week - could've been examined in detail.

Perhaps above all else, I think the subject matter is best suited to a documentary format.

Having said all that I'm glad I saw the film as it was a fine work but for various reasons I don't rate it as highly as most others have.

2/08/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

When there was no pressure on, Blair was delivering all the right soundbites and noises about how he was going to modernise England and the monarchy was a tired institution but when push comes to shove, he was amongst its strongest defenders.
I was thinking about this, and maybe I'm stating the obvious, but among Blair's cohorts, he's the only one who has any real contact with the Queen. It's okay to criticize something when it can be treated in the abstract, but once you have your weekly one-on-one meetings with the Queen and start ringing her up and then her son starts confiding in you, well, then the whole thing starts to look a bit different. So I think that more than no pressure vs. push-comes-to-shove there was the abstract institution vs. the real flesh-and-blood person.

2/08/2007 11:39:00 PM  

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