I've been meaning to write up my opinion about this film since I saw it a month ago, and what with the Oscar and stuff, everyone on the planet has already seen it, but there were certain aspects about the movie that I really liked, so I'm going to write it anyway.
The Queen is about such a limited time frame that it really works. It only covers the death of Princess Diana and the week immediately after. The central conflict of the story is how the monarchy should respond to the Princess's death. It's a lot less cut and dry than most people probably anticipate it being, and that's for a lot of reasons, reasons that are touched on in the movie. For one, and it's hard to believe that this is one that's easy to forget: The Queen is the grandmother to two young boys who have just lost their mother, and she is obviously concerned about their well-being. She knows the media is going to be a circus, and she wants to protect the boys from that. Secondly, this is a woman who was raised and reigned during World War II, and those of us with grandparents from that era can attest to the fact that these were people who were taught to keep emotion to themselves. Public demonstrations of grief were thought to be disrespectful. Like it or not, stiff upper lip is almost genetic to this generation of people. And third of all, Diana's relationship with the Royal Family was incredibly complicated, and this was not entirely the fault of the Royals.
Don't get me wrong, I sympathize very much with Diana. It's one thing to think about being in the Royal Family, and it's quite another to actually be in it. I can imagine that the stress and strain on her was enormous. This must have been compounded by her struggles with depression and the constant media attention should she so much as want to go shopping. But whether deservedly or no, Diana caused the Monarchy a great deal of trouble by speaking out with her opinions, telling her stories, and presenting them in a light that, delicately put, was not flattering. And so the Queen was probably also struggling with those emotions as well.
All of that comes across in Helen Mirren's portrayal, stunningly so. She is at once strong and vulnerable, and to watch her struggle with the reactions of the media and of her subjects to not only Diana's death but to her response to it was really interesting and really gets you to think more about what that must have been like. She really did a superb job.
The supporting cast was also excellent. Michael Sheen was a great Tony Blair, and I liked the balance he was striving for between the derisive comments of his staff and the sympathy he obviously feels for the Queen. Although, I must say, the people around him, including his wife, seem harsher than I would hope they actually were. The best scene in the film is when he remarks on how quickly the public can turn on you, and the Queen assures him that he will have to deal with it in his own time. (Particularly poignant given Blair's involvement with the Iraq war and the country's reaction.) James Cromwell is always excellent, and it's also interesting to remember that the Queen is also a wife, and see the dynamic play out there. Alex Jennings made Prince Charles both sympathetic and sort of gross at different points. I hope the real Charles broke down when he heard the news. He frustrated me a great deal, though, by seeming to block his mother's entrance into the boys' room after he told them the news. If nothing else, it was good to see a different side of him, a sympathetic one at last. And Sylvia Syms was a hoot as the Queen Mother. Not always funny, but just such a dynamic character and presence, it was a delight to watch.
On a shallow note, every time they show the Queen doing something normal, like driving a hummer, I cracked up. "The Queen said 'walkies'!" I whispered with glee in the theater. Again, humanizing these people is what I think the movie is all about, and the cast and script of the movie did this admirably. If you're one of the few people who haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.