THE QUEEN (Stephen Frears, 2006)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, January 18, free with museum admission, 3:00
It’s tradition versus modernization in Stephen Frears’s re-creation of the Royal Family’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana on August 31, 1997. While the world mourns, Queen Elizabeth II (a stoic Helen Mirren), Prince Philip (an acerbic James Cromwell), and the Queen Mum (Sylvia Syms) just continue their daily routine as if nothing has happened. They take Diana and Prince Charles’s (Alex Jennings) children up to Balmoral to hunt stag, refusing to publicly acknowledge the tragedy. Meanwhile, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen, reprising the role from Frears’s 2003 British television movie THE DEAL) has been swept into the office of prime minister in a landslide victory for forward-thinking change. Noting the public response to Diana’s death, Blair implores the queen to respond, but protocol, pride, and dignity get in the way. Frears cleverly, if obviously, displays the differences between the old and the new in depicting the simple home life of the Blairs against the opulence of the Royal Family, each way of life representing the ever-growing gap in British society. Through exhaustive research, screenwriter Peter Morgan imagines the relationship between Blair and the queen, including numerous private conversations held over the phone and in person, and as intriguing as they are, there’s just no way to know how much of it really happened. (A similar fate befell The Last King of Scotland, in which cowriter Morgan imagined conversations Idi Amin had with a made-up character.) Nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, The Queen is a compelling film, with solid acting (Cromwell is a screaming riot, and Mirren won an Oscar for Best Actress for her stellar performance) and appropriately calm direction, but it never quite reaches the heights it aspires to. The Queen is screening January 18 at 3:00 as part of the Museum of the Moving Image series “Stephen Frears: The Chameleon,” being held in conjunction with the success of the director’s most recent work, Philomena, which has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Dame Judi Dench).