This movie is set during a week in 1997 that most of us can remember. At the beginning of the week Princess Diana, the divorced wife of the Prince of Wales, was killed in a car accident. Tony Blair, the newly elected prime minister, appeared on television with with a statement that eulogized her as “the Peoples Princess”.
As the nation mourned the popular princess, Queen Elisabeth and her family remained in seclusion at Balmoral Estate in Scotland. The Queen had been trained from childhood never to display any emotion or other weakness in public, and she presumably also wanted to keep her grandchildren away from the press whose paparazzi had played a major role in their mother’s death.
But as the Royal Family remained silent, public opinion began to turn against them. A poll published at the end of the week showed 25% of the respondents in favor of abolishing the monarchy. At that point the queen reversed herself, brought her family to London, and addressed the nation on television. This quickly restored her popularity and soon everything was forgotten and forgiven.
(Forgive me for giving away the ending, but I’m assuming that everyone already knows this.)
I may not be the best person to review this. Someone who really cares, one way or the other, about the survival of the British monarchy might be able to do a better job. Still I found this film, if not exactly gripping, at least interesting and well-done.
Helen Mirren’s performance as Queen Elisabeth has been justly praised. She portrays the Queen as a strong-willed woman who keeps her emotions under rigid control. She is energetic and intelligent, but woefully out of touch with ordinary people.
James Cromwell gives a downright comic performance as Prince Philip. Widely regarded as the ultimate upper-class twit, he seems to have an unerring instinct for the wrong thing to do or say.
Prince Charles, as portrayed by Alex Jennings, is more politically astute than his mother, but totally unable to stand up to her. He also comes off as rather paranoid, haunted by fears that he is about to be assassinated.
For me the most interesting character is Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Initially he has no particular attachment to the monarchy, and his wife would clearly like to see it abolished. But he knows that things are not really that simple. Any government rests to some extent on foundations composed of myth and illusion. Even when the myths and ceremonies seem somewhat ridiculous it may not be easy or safe to abolish them. Blair understands that anything that threatens the monarchy would also tend to threaten his own position as Prime Minister.
I make no representation that these portrayals are accurate, though they seem fairly plausible. No movie is going to give you the entire truth; indeed it is rare for a movie to contain any truth at all. Still this movie is interesting enough that I am glad I saw it.