"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"
~ Henry IV, Part II
I’ve always admired the British stiff upper lip, until I watched The Queen and realized how the the upper lip thing could be taken to extremes. The Queen takes place in the week following Diana’s death in 1997.
Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and her family are vacationing at Balmoral Castle when her secretary tells her that Diana has been in an accident. The queen, Philip (James Cromwell), the Queen Mum and Charles gather around the TV, some of them incensed that Diana is at it again. She was supposed to be in London, Phillip rages. The queen waves him aside with “Well, you know how she is.”
When they learn of her death their thoughts immediately turn to the boys and how to best comfort and protect them. After all, Diana was stripped of HRH title and is no longer an official member of the Royal Family. The Spencers are in charge of her funeral. What’s it to do with them?
And so begins a long week of missteps, misspeak and mistakes.
The Queen becomes a steady loop of Us vs. Them. The Royal Family vs. The Public. Tony Blair vs. the Royal Family. Tradition vs. Modernity. As the royals ride out the circus and wait for it to die down in a day or two, or maybe next week at the latest, the public gets angrier as the days pass without a word or appearance from the monarchy. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) tries to make the royals see that Diana was not just another family member but was the “People’s Princess.”
The smile Blair wears at the beginning of the film quickly turns to a frown then a grimace as the week wears on, until finally even he loses it. “Will someone please save these people from themselves?” Blair fears the growing mob even as the queen and Philip lament that their tea is growing cold.
I admire the balance of this movie. I anticipated it biasingly blasting the monarchy, but that didn’t happen. Blair shows common sense when he scathingly reminds his cynical staff of the queen’s reputation for leading Great Britian with dignity all these years without a blemish on her record. The queen is hurt when she finally does return to Kensington Palace and reads the angry notes left by the public for whom she has sacrificed her life. Their vicious tone wounds her.
There are two sides to every story, so goes the saying. The world mourned a woman they didn’t know, a woman they placed on a pedestal who didn’t deserve to be there anymore than we do because of our human frailties and faults. The royals welcomed Diana into their family, yet Diana did damage to the monarchy that they are still recovering from to this day.
The masses turned to the Queen for comfort; the queen turned to tradition for comfort. In the end, aren’t they equally at fault?
Helen Mirren won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role as the queen. Search the JCLC catalog for more movies by Mirren, James Cromwell and director Stephen Frears.
Want to learn more about the Royal Family?
The Queen trailer