Political Film Society - Newsletter #260 - October 15, 2006

October 15, 2006


The QueenThe Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, is an exposé of the peculiar way in which Queen Elizabeth (played by Helen Mirren) handled the death of Lady Diana during a week in midsummer 1997 shortly after the election of Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) as prime minister. The film begins by establishing the fact that commoner Lady Di, the glamorous wife of the Prince of Wales (played by Alex Jennings), was a media celebrity whose movements were photographed and discussed throughout Britain and beyond. One day, however, she dies as a result of a car crash in Paris, presumably while trying to evade the ubiquitous paparazzi. Rather than rushing to London to receive the coffin and to preside over a state funeral and memorial service, Elizabeth stays in Scotland at Balmoral Castle expecting that Britons will respect her wishes for a quiet, private ceremony. Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip (played by James Cromwell), have been shocked at Lady Di’s exploits, which they believe to have damaged the dignity of the monarchy. Their prejudices, well publicized in the British press for years, now are interpreted as a judgment of contempt for the general public, which wants the queen to share in the grief about Lady Di’s death, including flying the royal flag at half mast at all the castles of the realm. Blair understands the queen’s reverence for tradition, in which the royal flag only flies over castles when the queen is present and never at half mast, and he at first supports her desire to avoid emotionalism by downplaying the tragedy. Nevertheless, Prince Philip opposes the queen’s bit of revenge against the People’s Princess and so encourages Blair to honor the death of his wife, who bore two sons to ensure the continuity of the royal line. As Lady Di’s fans pile bouquets at the entrance to Buckingham Palace, Blair proceeds to organize a very ostentatious memorial service that will include many commoners, including a featured singer, Elton John, whom Philip maligns as a homosexual. The press, which continues to hammer away at the queen’s refusal to go to London, announces the result of a poll in which the 25 percent of the British public express a desire to end the monarchy. After Blair informs the queen of the results of the poll, he issues an ultimatum to the queen if she really wants to save the monarchy. Indeed, Elizabeth considers abdicating. Nevertheless, Elizabeth goes to London, looks at the bouquets, mixes briefly with commoners, and issues a statement on television to assuage public anger, though clearly she agrees with none of what she reads from the teleprompter.
In the final scene, two months later, she is with Blair and predicts that some day he, too, will find himself the unexpected object of hatred.

The Queen is more than a mere docudrama, as the aim appears to be to explain that the old-fashioned thinking of the queen is a function of her isolation for some fifty years from the real world. The film also demonstrates the political skill of the youngest prime minister in British history who later found the queen’s gloomy prophecy fulfilled after he supported the American effort to invade Iraq on the flimsiest of pretexts. A fascinating part of the movie is the protocol involving the queen, in which for example the future prime minister kneels before the queen and answers her question whether he will agree to form a new government. As an extraordinary revelation of the events and the protocol, the Political Film Society has nominated The Queen as best film promoting democracy and best film exposé of 2006. MH

Man of the YearDirected by previous Political Film Society awardwinner Barry Levinson for Good Morning, Vietnam (1988), Man of the Year is about Tom Dobbs (played by Robin Williams), who as a talk-show host jokingly says that he might run for president and then has his bluff called by his audience. Campaigning as an independent at the last minute, he is not able to get on the ballot in every state, but he wins enough electoral votes for an upset victory over incumbent Democrat, President Kellogg (played by David Nichols), and Republican candidate Mills (played by David Ferry). Dobbs’s campaign speeches identify the control of American politics by special interests so quickly that filmviewers may wonder whether he is engaging in outrageous humor or he is issuing a serious indictment, a problem that also plagued Head of State (2003). In any case, he has no practical solutions to the various problems that he articulates. However, the film begins with a discovery by Eleanor (played by Laura Linney) that the voting machines in use have a programming error. After she presents her findings to her boss, she is drugged and hospitalized. When she leaves the hospital, she figures out the algorithm that threw the votes to Dobbs and decides to meet president-elect Dobbs, the only honest person in the United States who may believe her. After a brief flirtation, she tells Dobbs, who then has to confront a dilemma whether to remain as president-elect, following suggestions from his advisers, or to tell the country about the election fraud. But the same dilemma confronts leaders in the United States, where election irregularities are rampant. For attempting to bring some of the issues to the public, the Political Film Society has nominated Man of the Year as best film promoting democracy in 2006. MH