I took this month’s Genre Grandeur of Biographies , hosted by Movie Rob, to tap into my Royal Family Obsession!
In a time before Peter Morgan was the writer, showrunner and ‘creator’ of the Netflix drama, The Crown, he was the ‘creator’ and writer of another Queen Elizabeth II centric screen presentation. My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, I present to you: The Queen (2006). My Aunt was the person who initially told me about this movie when it first came out. I remember being very interested in the content, as I learned about the Royal Family from reading magazines at the dentist office. Hey, I didn’t have any royal family books back then, and I certainly was not using the internet for anything else other than school, so People magazine was the best source I had! I always, however, had a big fan of Princess Diana, and I was hoping she “appeared” in the movie.
The Queen is a prestigious biopic covering the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the aftermath that occurred both in the Royal Family’s public and private life. While a blonde actress is used for a stand in for Diana getting into a car outside the Ritz, Princess Diana is not a physical character in this narrative. She is, however, the film’s driving force, and the source behind every decision made by the characters in the film (really, I feel disdainful referring to actors as ‘characters’, as they are depictions of real people, but there’s really no other term to use!).
Portraying The Queen is Helen Mirren, with James Cromwell as Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, and Alex Jennings as The Prince of Wales (This time he’s playing Charles, not ‘David’ or should I say Edward, who abdicated, as he played on The Crown). Also featured in a prominent role is Michael Sheen as the then newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Due to the PG-13 rating, I wasn’t allowed to see the film in 2006 (I was 10), and then it just kind of took a backseat in my mind until 2015, at which I was 18 or 19. Honestly, the delay was in part due to the lack of accessibility. My family and I don’t get the extra movie channels on the satellite package, but during those free channel promotions I had the opportunity to watch. Even though looking back at the content, I possibly could have watched this film when I was 10, but I honestly think I would have found it boring back then. I believe I would have been waiting for Princess Diana to show up in a flashback, or William and Harry to come on screen. I would not have believed in the actors playing their parts, rather waiting for the real people to appear. I certianly wouldn’t have grasped the biopic concept, instead thinking it was a documentary. In that regard, I’m very glad I watched the film when I did, as I could take it in and really absorb it.
Helen Mirren gives quite possibly the best performance of her entire career. She even impressed Her Majesty herself and was invited to Buckingham Palace for a private dinner. Ms. Mirren had to decline, due to work conflicts, but she was extremely honored nonetheless. I remember hearing news Helen Mirren got the Oscar when it first happened, and I was happy, but reflecting on it now in 2021, I’m super obsessed with the fact she won! Very rarely do you get a performer in a role they completely embody and Helen did that for the Queen.
I even wanted her in the early stages of The Crown to play the elderly Queen Elizabeth down the line in the later seasons. I know this won’t be the case but I, in my dream world of a mind, was really pulling for it to happen. I will however, bring up in a totally nerd way, the connection between these two productions: the stag scene. In the film, one of the most powerful scenes is the stag scene in which Queen Elizabeth realizes the pain and loss caused by Diana’s death. It’s artistic licence but done brilliantly well and everything about it is perfection. In The Crown’s season 4 episode “The Balmoral Test” a subplot involves Diana and Philip hunting a stag, with many references pointing out the comparisons of Diana and said stag they are hunting. It’s just one of those details one may not think about on the onset, but then you go back and realize, “Wow! That’s a powerful connection!”.
The magical thing about Peter Morgan and his writing is he knows how to fill in the gaps between reality and fiction. A perfect example is the Queen’s weekly meetings with the Prime Minister. We know these meetings are happening, but no one but those two actually know what is being discussed. It’s amazing how the scenes are written to be fictional, yet the results from those meetings turn out to be the reality of actual events.
In this particular production, more so than The Crown, real life footage is used. We see real life footage of the outside of Buckingham Palace in 1997, with the mountains of flowers; we see Princess Dina herself in archival footage before the car crash is depicted; and even real scenes from the funeral are used. It’s really cool and it almost blurs the lines between biopic and documentary.
Overall, I give all the credit to The Queen because it was the first major production in which Queen Elizabeth II was portrayed as a character in a narrative. It set the tone for The Crown, and I think in the film world (so not including television) it is still the cream of the crop for how the Royal Family should look, and for how they should be portrayed. I don’t believe any film has come even close to the look and feel of The Queen, and future film makers have a very tall order if they want to create a similar result.
In short, even if you are not a fan of the Royal Family, I recommend the film to anyone looking for a biography done right. It’s not a documentary but it’s as close as it can be for being a drama. Plus you get to see real life Hollywood Queen play the real Queen, and it really doesn’t get cooler than that!