Queen of the World


God save the Queen.

(2018) Documentary (HBO) Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Sarah Lancashire (narrator), Prince William, Prince Harry, Robin Onslow, Sophie Wessex, Meghan Markle, Mark Flanagan, Tony Johnstone-Burt, Anthony Morrow, Claudine Jeffery, Korede Bolade, Princess Ann, Justin Trudeau, Johnathan Fraser, Jock Slater, Patricia Scotland, Euphemia Sydney-Davies, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas. Directed by Matt Hill

 

For most of us, Elizabeth II has been the Queen of England our entire lives. She has reigned more than 60 years, ascending the throne in 1952 and becoming the longest reigning British monarch in history.

This documentary was filmed during a tumultuous year in which Prince Harry wed American actress Meghan Markle who is partially of African descent, a possibility never even considered even twenty years ago. It also highlights one of the Queen’s chief causes; the Commonwealth, made up of former English colonies and territories, a strictly voluntary association. In fact the filmmakers go to great length to explain that on Markle’s wedding gown are stitched native wildflowers of every Commonwealth country. There are currently 53 member nations; when Elizabeth founded it there were only seven.

As part of the Commonweath’s mission, young people from around the Commonwealth are invited to work at Buckingham Palace; a fashion show during London fashion week is also sponsored by the Commonwealth featuring up and coming designers from Commonwealth nations. We see both programs in action, focusing on Jamaican workers in the Palace.

There are some candid interviews with members of the Royal Family including Markle as well as Prince Charles, Princess Ann (his younger sister) and Prince Harry, who advises the young interns not to panic when encountering the Queen in the hallways. We observe her interacting with the Jamaicans and she seems kind and gentle with them. It’s as close as we come to getting any insight to the Queen herself.

It is unsurprising that she never directly addresses the camera or consents to an interview; the Queen has notoriously not done interviews and kept her private life very private. It is clear however that the world is changing and while the Queen takes very seriously her role as the face of the British monarchy, she at least acknowledges tacitly that changes will need to be made if the monarchy is to remain relevant in the 21st century. She is grandmotherly (she reminds me very much of my own grandmother) and remains popular with her subjects. She is much less aloof than she once was.

While the film is a bit of a puff piece – I can’t imagine the filmmakers would have been granted the kind of access that they received had they intended to be critical in any sort of way. Still one can’t help wish that a documentary about the Queen would have had much more of the Queen in it. To the good, some of the footage “behind the scenes” is actually quite informative and entertaining.

This will definitely appeal to anglophiles and monarchists alike. Elizabeth, at 92 years of age, remains a vital public figure and while her public appearances and travels have been cut down severely in recent years (there’s a lengthy piece on the royal yacht Britannia which she used extensively in her travels from early in her reign until recently) she still remains largely the face of the British monarchy and in many ways, the face of Britain itself. I don’t know if she ever actually said “Keep calm and carry on” which launched a thousand memes, but if she didn’t she certainly should have.

The film is currently airing on HBO in the United States and ITV in the UK. It is listed in iMDB as a mini-series but to my knowledge this one hour feature is the only one scheduled to air in the United States.

REASONS TO GO: At times this is a fascinating “backstage” look at the Royal Family. The interviews tend to humanize the Royal Family quite a bit – but not so much the Queen herself.
REASONS TO STAY: The narration tends to drone on a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: This is suitable for family viewing although most children will be terribly bored.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming began shortly before the Queen made her 2016 annual Christmas address and concluded just after the 2017 address.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Crown
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Molly (2018)

The Queen


The Queen

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip feel the love.

(2006) Drama  (Miramax) Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms, Alex Jennings, Helen McCrory, Roger Allam, Tim McMullan, Douglas Reith, Robin Soans, Mark Bazeley, Earl Cameron, John McGlyn, Lola Peploe, Pat Laffan. Directed by Stephen Frears

Queen Elizabeth II of England is one of the most public figures of the last half-century, but how little we know her. For most of us, she is this cold, unemotional creature more or a figure than a real person. Few have been allowed inside the inner sanctum of her heart.

One of the most emotional weeks in recent British history was the week following the untimely death of Diana, the former Princess of Wales in 1997. Tony Blair (Sheen) had just been elected Prime Minister and had met, along with his bemused wife Cherie (McCrory),  with Queen Elizabeth (Mirren) just prior for the royal family’s departure to their summer estate at Balmoral in Scotland. It was there that they were given the awful news of the car accident in Paris and anxiously watched the BBC through the night like the rest of us until the final word was received. 

Elizabeth’s first thought was to Diana’s sons, Harry and William, who were understandably devastated. She had been trained to treat the tragedy as a private matter for the family, with dignity and public stoicism befitting the monarch of the realm, a decision supported by her husband Prince Phillip (Cromwell) and the Queen Mother (Syms). However, Blair, who was the first to publicly speak about the tragedy, was disturbed to find that there was increasing sentiment that the British people wanted – needed – to hear their monarch speak on the issue, whereas the Royal family were loathe to do so, resisting more the harder he pushed. Prince Charles (Jennings), the ex-husband of Diana, was somewhat weak but still understood what was happening politically. Nonetheless, the family stayed in Balmoral in seclusion until Blair had to demand that the Queen return to London to be with her subjects. There she would at last be forced to address the issue and allow her subjects to publically grieve with her, one of the most extraordinary turn of events in recent British history. 

There are some terrific performances here, particularly Mirren who once again turns in an Oscar-caliber performance as Elizabeth. She’s been nominated twice for a Supporting Actress (in 1995 and again in 2002) but this would be the movie that finally got her the statuette. She portrays Elizabeth as a stoic, highly private person who is slow to realize that the world has changed and her role as monarch needed to change with it. She captures the queen’s mannerisms nicely, and breathes life into a personage that is somewhat two-dimensional, at least here in America. In the end, she adapts to her new role with admirable graciousness which seems to be in character with the woman Mirren was portraying. 

Cromwell does a terrific job as Phillip, playing him as a cantankerous and stuffy aristocrat whose belief in the rightness of his cause blinds him to the damage he is doing to his own position. In many ways his portrayal is exactly the way most Americans see the aristocracy of Europe as somewhat prissy, arrogant and bone-headed, refusing to enter the 21st century even as time has passed their sort by. Whether or not this is accurate is subject to debate; however, many Americans share this view which has been reinforced often in films and television.

Sheen is sympathetic as Blair, who is at first in awe of the Royals, then grows frustrated by them and at last comes to admire them. Blair – who would have his own fall from grace later in his career – was then the fair-haired boy of British politics (the Hugh Grant character in Love Actually was modeled on him somewhat) and his actions during the crisis of Diana’s death cemented him in the hearts of the British people for years. Sheen captures Blair’s political savvy and his somewhat awkward self-consciousness in the presence of the Royals. Much of the movie is seen through his eyes, and quite frankly it’s an effective way of acting as an audience surrogate.

Frears gives us what feels like a real glimpse into the royal household, albeit one that is largely conjecture. For example, there is a sequence involving Elizabeth’s encounter with a magnificent buck in the countryside at Balmoral which follows her most emotional scene of the movie. It is lit in almost a heavenly manner, and one gets the feeling that there is more to it than meets the eye. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing if anything of the sort ever happened, and if it did, well, the Queen isn’t talking. Then again, perhaps this movie is talking for her. Mirren’s performance elevates it from what could have been movie-of-the-week territory to something more splendid.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare glimpse into the Royal household, even if much of it is conjecture. An Oscar-winning career-defining performance by Mirren, as well as solid performances by Cromwell and Sheen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit on the slow side, pacing-wise.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of strong language and a disturbing image of a dead buck.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Mirren had so inhabited the role of the Queen that by the end of the shoot, slouching crew members would often stand at attention and hold their hands respectfully behind their backs when addressing Mirren.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: While commentary tracks are standard with nearly every DVD and Blu-Ray these days, there is one here by monarchy expert and British historian Robert Lacey that provides a great deal of illumination not only to the traditions of the royal family but also to what happened during tht week in particular.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $123.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Source Code