September 28, 2006
The Queen, 2006
The Queen transforms the morbid spectacle surrounding Diana's tragic death in the summer of 1997 into a trenchant, elegant, and compelling exposition into the nefarious role of the media as both creator (and self-generator) of news and manipulator of public sentiment. By juxtaposing Diana's death within the framework of Tony Blair's recent election to the office of prime minister under the Labor Party platform of initiating a wide-range of sweeping reform ever to be instituted in the country after decades of Tory government (with visibly lackluster results), filmmaker Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan contextualize the atmosphere as a symptom of a broader social angst - a synchronicity that intrinsically transformed a family's private grief into a disoriented public's search for leadership and direction in a time of crisis. It is within this context of media complicity that Frear's strategy to incorporate substantial scenes of archival footage, coupled with a distanced, almost anecdotal reenactment of the infamous paparazzi chase on the streets of Paris that led to the tragic accident, proves especially incisive in illustrating the media's ensuing, self-perpetuated escalation of the episode into a blunt, sensationalistic, and incendiary public referendum to re-evaluate the relevance of the monarchy towards the end of the twentieth century. What is perhaps most commendable about the film is the remarkable integrity intrinsic in the cast and crew's complex and dimensional portrayal of the royal family - and in particular, Queen Elizabeth II (in a pitch-perfect performance by Helen Mirren) - as well intentioned, sensitive, but humanly flawed and woefully paralyzed by the rigid insularity and protocols of its venerated institution: caught in the tide of a self-fueled media circus, baffled by the public idealization of "the people's princess" who had privately challenged the very institution that she implicitly agreed to serve, and driven into a stoic silence in keeping with the dignity of the crown, but at odds with the increasing (and perhaps unjustifiable) public sentiment to lionize her. It is interesting to note that in serving as the unofficial mediator between the queen and the grieving public, Frears illustrates the conservatization of Tony Blair, a nascent glimpse of his increasing departure from the ideals of radical reform and towards the inertia and morass of politics as usual (an ideological realignment that seems particularly stark within the context of post 9/11 global politics).