By Kenzie Love
Elizabeth II has the peculiar distinction of being one of the world’s most famous, yet least-known people, and is therefore both a perfect and very difficult subject for a biographical drama. Difficult because those involved have very little to base their work on; perfect because few people will be able to point out inaccuracies in it.
The Queen, starring Helen Mirren in the title role, is–to a large extent–a product of guesswork. There’s no telling how accurate the film’s depiction is of Her Majesty’s private anguish in the days following the death of Princess Diana, but Mirren inhabits the role so fully that after having watched it, separating her depiction of the Queen from the real-life one is virtually impossible. All things considered, that’s pretty much the highest feat a biopic can achieve.
Mirren looks, sounds and acts incredibly like the Queen people do know. The physical resemblance, aided by a grey wig and a spectacularly ugly pair of glasses, is uncanny, particularly since the two ordinarily look nothing alike. Her genteel accent is also note-perfect. She captures the Queen’s courtesy but obvious unease when forced to mingle among “her people.”
The actress is equally skilled in her portrayal of the Queen people can only guess at, a woman whose stubborn insistence on tradition comes off as both grating and poignant. She has the perfect foil, moreover, in Prime Minister Tony Blair, a man conversely obsessed with modernization. The film skirts around his precise plans in this respect, but it doesn’t really matter. As played by Michael Sheen, he exudes such youthful energy it’s impossible not to like him. It’s no hagiography, but if Blair wants Britons to forget his recent scandals, he need look no further than this film, and this fantastic actor, to do it.
The Queen’s portrayals of other characters, however, are less convincing. The surprisingly unrefined Queen Mother (Sylvia Sims), with her ever-present gin and tonic, is largely a caricature designed for comic relief. Meanwhile, Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) is meant to inspire sympathy with his constantly pained expression, but is actually funny instead. His fear of being shot following his ex-wife’s death may have been real, but it’s hardly logical.
While Di herself only appears in file footage, the images that flash on screen of her fending off the press in the past as she speeds towards the car crash that killed her only present one side of the story. Yes, her death was tragic, but there’s no escaping the fact she sought attention during her life.
The Queen, in contrast, has generally sought to avoid the media during her life and she probably wouldn’t be amused by this take on it. If she’s concerned about it damaging the public’s perception of her, however, she needn’t worry. The Queen can only lead to a deservedly heightened respect for both its subject and its star. God save the monarchy!