The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in August 1997 led to an unprecedented outpouring of public grief that astonished the world – and the British Monarchy …
'The Queen' tells the story of the week following the accident in Paris in which both Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed died. Of course, only those present can say whether this movie is an accurate portrayal of what happened in those days, but director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan produce a suitably convincing story – and Helen Mirren, in the title role, looks as though she has stepped straight off a ten-pound note.
Diana's death occurred while the Royal Family were at Balmoral for their annual holiday in Scotland. Believing this to be a private matter, for private grief, the Queen refused to return to London, wanting to give William and Harry a peaceful environment in which to mourn their mother. So far, so sensible. But the public mood in London was changing from grief to bewilderment and in some cases to anger that the Queen had not returned – as some saw it – to share her grief with her people.
The Royal Family's silence on the tragedy enabled the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to seize the moment by making a public statement in which he dubbed Diana "The People's Princess", immediately adding several points to his popularity rating. Still the Queen refused to countenance the idea of returning to London, believing that the public grief would settle down. In this, she seriously misjudged a situation which was exacerbated by the sight of the bare flagpole at Buckingham Palace. The centuries-old protocol was that only the Royal standard may fly from the Palace flagpole, indicating when the Monarch is present. But this quickly became a symbol of, as the press portrayed it, the Queen's lack of concern for her people's grief.
Eventually, after continued advice from the Prime Minister, and realising that the press and people seemed to be rapidly turning against the Monarchy, the Queen capitulated. The Union Flag was flown at half-mast at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Family returned to London, spoke to some of the many people who were still gathered outside the Palace, and the Queen made a televised statement, all of which seemed to turn the tide of public feeling.
'The Queen' is a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of extraordinary events and how they affect an extraordinary group of people. The portrayals are spot-on. Prince Charles, nervy and desperate to modernise the Monarchy; Prince Philip, trying to be supportive but still forthright and blustering; the elderly Queen Mother, reminding her daughter of the oath made at the time of her Accession, that she would dedicate her entire life to the service of her people. Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), who might have been thought to be happy to see the Monarchy attacked, is shown to stand up for the Queen in a memorable outburst against spin-doctor Alastair Campbell's republican glee at the Royal Family's discomfort.
Although not everyone's cup of Earl Grey, the movie is a fascinating exploration of the personalities involved and stands as a worthwhile story in its own right. Above all, this is Mirren's movie. Playing someone as emotionally restrained as the Queen would frighten off most actors. Instead, Mirren embraces the character, portraying all the grief and anguish and confusion of a situation as she tries to juggle the demands of duty and family, in a beautifully nuanced and Oscar-worthy performance.