Political Film Society - The Queen

PFS Film Review
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qian li zou dan qi)


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

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