Jennifer Merin reviews “The Queen”

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THE QUEEN REIGNS SUPREME

When Lady Diana Spencer died in August, 1997 in a disastrous car collision in Paris, people in mourning around the globe wanted to honor the former Princess of Wales with a state funeral. But Buckingham Palace, no longer considering Diana a royal, wanted the funeral held privately, away from the limelight that had followed her– and her troubled affairs– from the time she’d become HRH until her untimely death.

Queen Elizabeth’s initial refusal to recognize Diana’s importance to the British public seriously undermined the authority of the monarchy. At one point one in four Brits thought the royals– and their privileges– should go.

“The Queen” gives us a penetrating behind-the-scenes glimpse at how HRH Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and the royal family are forced to take hold of the situation and, following the advice of newly elected Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), deal with and survive the crisis.

Making a biopic about a still-reigning monarch is tricky business– all the more so when the movie focuses on such well-known events. There’re issues about protocol, access and accuracy, and a legitimate concern about exploitation and scandal mongering further to that already seen from a gossip-hungry press.

But never mind all that. From its first to last minute, “The Queen” consistently serves its constituents with honesty, insight and carefully researched detail. By seamlessly mixing staged scenes with archival news footage and specially created ‘archival’ footage, director Stephen Frears convincingly presents the events and captures the emotion-filled ambience of that historic moment. Frears’ approach is unfailingly sensitive, subtle and compelling. Peter Morgan‘s brilliant script is rich with wit and poignancy. Using the ongoing metaphor of a stalked stag, Morgan reveals the Queen’s monarchic angst in a most remarkably moving way.

And all hail Helen Mirren, the reigning Queen of Cinema! Watching her is like having a private audience with royalty, and you will never royal-watch the same way again. She portrays Elizabeth II as an exceptionally strong woman who struggles painfully and privately to uphold the burdensome vow she’s taken to spend her entire life serving her people. Mirren clearly commands Oscar consideration.

The rest of the cast gives stellar performances, too, especially James Cromwell as Prince Philip and Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mum.

“The Queen” is timely, fascinating, thoroughly engaging. It crowns this year’s list of best films.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).