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"The Queen"

Directed by Stephen Frears.
Written by Peter Morgan.
Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, Alex Jennings and James Cromwell.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  10/4/06


As good as Helen Mirren is once again, this time as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen", she is not able to carry a film to the promised land.

This new drama by Stephen Frears (he directed "Dangerous Liaisons" and "The Grifters" a long time ago) does strong work with its main topic of interest, the days of the British government following the death of Princess Diana back in August of 1997.  Newly-elected Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), who had just won office three months before Diana's death, was at odds with the Queen on how to handle the public relations of the situation...and, famously, the Queen decided to stay in his comfy 40,000-acre retreat outside of town instead of coming to London to issue a statement addressing the nation during this tragic time.

Frears injects lots of actual footage of Diana as well as news footage of the aftermath to great effect; in addition, the performances of Mirren and Sheen are quite solid, and at times fairly funny, as they portray these real-life figures that most of us gringos only saw on TV in small bits at the time.  But something about the process is quite dry, quite British (duh), quite stodgy and it makes the experience for an American like myself who wasn't all that caught up in Diana's death just a bit flat.  The film is an interesting exploration into how a government should handle a tragedy as unique as this one; as the Queen notes a number of times, it wasn't even like Diana was even a member of the royal family any more, since she had run off with another man by the time she was stalked by paparazzi and died in her tragic car accident...she was a former royal celebrity, technically speaking, and how should you handle such a large outpouring of love for someone like Diana?

But in following the Queen and her family around their retreat for the five days after Diana's death, the film just got boring to watch as we predictably went through watching the Queen, Prince Philip (James Cromwell), and Queen Elizabeth I (Sylvia Syms) try and place their fake interest in the children of Diana and Prince Charles (Alex Jennings); it takes forever for Blair to get the Queen to sign on, but the process in watching the Queen change her stubborn mind is highlighted not by rationalizing her lack of understanding of the English people so much as it is feeling bad for a helpless buck that wanders around the retreat's countryside.  (I think.)

The sets are gorgeous; even if these are stand-in locations, what's here is lovely.  And Mirren is so watchable that even as the film slows down in its second half, she still lights up the screen with her talents every time she appears.  I wanted to like "The Queen" more, but as it is, it's still a solid piece of entertainment, especially as one that highlights a story that hasn't been touched as a film subject since the tragedies of nine years ago.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09