Let Helen Mirren’s regal Queen Elizabeth roll over you. 


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                 Nothing in the favorable hype that surrounds “The Queen” quite prepares us for its impact.  Were we ready perhaps to smirk a bit at the conventions of 1000 years of the British monarchy?  Or to marvel at the woman who clings steadfastly to formality?  Put all that aside and just let Helen Mirren’s regal Queen Elizabeth roll over you. 

                This Queen has performed with impeccably cool reserve through several wars and more than a dozen prime ministers.  Writer Peter Morgan and Director Stephen Frears have had the good sense to leave out all the family dysfunction.  This is neither soap opera nor biography.  It is story of the calamitous week that ended the contentious relationship between the Queen and her former daughter-in-law. 

                In 1997, as Tony Blair took 10 Downing Street, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in the famous Paris tunnel crash with Dodi Fayed by her side.  What Helen Mirren does so remarkably is to lead us through the traditional dictates of stoic response right up to the stone wall of new century values that stops her cold.  With complete confidence, she refuses to fly a flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace.  No flag flies there when the Queen is away, and the queen has left for the 40,000 protective acres of Balmoral.  She will not honor in any way the divorced beauty who was no longer a royal.

                It is Tony Blair (Michael Sheen in a fine performance) who nudges her gently toward the new reality.  At least gently at first, and then with an uncompromising voice, he tells her there must be a procession to Westminster Abbey and a full public funeral.  The culture of celebrity had swept both America and Britain by this time, and Diana had won Britain’s collective heart.  The country had no tolerance for reserve or stoicism even if precedent called for it.  2,000,000 Britons came to London, and with flowers, tears, and gatherings in public squares, they let it be known they would not tolerate silence as a royal response.  The culture of celebrity had become stronger than the crown.

                The queen’s slow awakening to the new world doesn’t change her feelings about Diana; her awakening is to the fact that she must follow, not lead the popular will – which tells her, of course, that the days of the monarchy are limited.

                With a nearly imperceptible change of expression and without an ounce of sentimentality, Helen Mirren shows us that Elizabeth’s humanity is reserved for the beauty of a magnificent animal.  The scenes of the Queen and the stag left me speechless.  When finally she and Phillip the Dolt  (James Cromwell) walk slowly past the flowers outside Buckingham Palace, it is not Diana she mourns but the loss of her own historic supremacy.  Helen Mirren, superb in every moment, invests this one powerful week of British history with both majesty and loss and moves the audience way beyond its hopes or expectations. 

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