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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Stephen Frears|
scr Peter Morgan
with Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Sylvia Syms, Mark Bazeley, Tim McMullan, Kananu Kirimi, Susan Hitch, Julian Firth
release UK 15.Sep.06,
06/UK Pathe 1h43
Behind the headlines: Mirren
Telling a powerful story from a momentous week in British history, this does feel a bit like a TV movie with its two-perspective approach and tabloid tone. But it's also thoroughly gripping and ultimately moving.
In May 1997, Queen Elizabeth II (Mirren) welcomes to her palace the young new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Sheen). Just four months later, this cordial relationship between the new and old worlds will be tested in the week following the sudden death of Princess Diana. The Queen and her family are at their Balmoral Scottish enclave, protecting the young princes and keeping their grief private, while the public demands they show their faces. Prince Charles (Jennings) understands what's going on, but goes along with his mother's wishes. Blair spends the week trying to change her mind.
We see the story from both sides. The fresh government is looking forward--Tony, his strong-willed wife Cherie (McCrory), cynical spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Bazeley)--while the Royal Family clings to British stiff upper lip dignity--the Queen, Prince Philip (Cromwell), the Queen Mother (Syms). Bridging the gap are Charles and the Queen's private secretary (Allam). Frears assembles this crisply, peering behind closed doors and using real footage to keep it grounded in actual events (Diana, Earl Spencer, Bill Clinton, et al, play themselves).
The actors' natural performances are loaded with wit and candour. Mirren and Sheen are remarkable, capturing on the physicality without mimicry while creating fully formed characters. Both emerge as intriguing, strong, thoughtful people navigating territory that's never been travelled before, learning about themselves and the nation they both rule and serve. It's pretty heavy stuff, and they capture this tension with a wonderfully light touch.
For those of us who were in London during that astonishing week, this film recaptures the eerie silence and overwhelming outpouring of (perhaps misplaced) grief. But it also helps distil what was actually happening during those days--the recognition that we either adapt to the shifts of civilisation or we get left behind. And it's especially intriguing to realise that if they'd set this story in this year, the two central roles would be reversed.
|Christine, Toronto, Canada: "Sharp, smart movie with excellent directing and incredible acting. Hand Dame Helen her Oscar statuette now!" (8.Feb.07)|
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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