Happy Feet

Starring Helen Mirren, James Cromwell and Michael Sheen. Directed by Stephen Frears
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Rated: Rated M.
While the rating for The Queen is 'excellent', it may not be everybody's cup of tea. What we like depends on where we stand.

Some strong traditional British (and other) royalists may judge that this is an intrusion into the life of the royal family (though it is much more fair-minded than many a TV documentary of recent years). For those of a more republican frame of mind, it is a critique of the culture of protocol that seems to bind the behaviour and attitudes of the royals.

For those who want to understand the royal family, it goes a long way to help us appreciate the background that has shaped their lives and the effect that it has had on them.

The film is never less than interesting. It is very well crafted and most of the performances are excellent. Helen Mirren recently won an Emmy for her performance as Elizabeth I. She won the Best Actress award in Venice, 2006. Not only does she look and sound like the queen, she creates a character that can both attract and baffle the audience. James Cromwell probably underplays the gruff reputation that the Duke of Edinburgh is famous for.

Director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan made the telemovie, The Deal, some years ago, a dramatisation of the agreement of succession between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. (This new screenplay also won at Venice.) Michael Sheen portrayed Tony Blair. Here he is again, even more persuasive in capturing the look and manner of the prime minister.

Of course, the other principal element of the film is that it is mainly set during the week of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She appears in a great deal of television news material as well as in some of her interviews. The film is overwhelming in its reminder of the outpouring of grief at Diana's death, a powerful memory of what the British public felt and did at the time.

We are also reminded of the slow response of the queen from Balmoral and how that grew into harsh criticism, especially from media headlines. This is all dealt with here, not in a sensationalist way, but in a forthright way, a drama of the desire for privacy and the consequent decisions by the queen, the issue of the flag over Buckingham Palace and the delayed arrival of the family in London.

The Blairs (although the prime minister is shown as becoming devoted to the queen) and the Labor party members, including a strong Alistair Campbell lookalike, voice the criticism of the constricting effect of
protocol, precedents and procedures.

We also see the consequences of a sensibility that avoided any outward emotional show, even within the family. Prince Charles seems to be something of an exception, someone who has felt the need for touch and warmth and who could acknowledge that in this way Diana was an excellent mother.

In many ways, this film humanises the queen through showing us in her more ordinary life: waking up in the morning, reading the papers, watching TV, talking with her mother and, in fact, at the steering wheel of a four-wheel drive.

The film's, and the queen's, final question is whether this episode harmed the British monarchy, not just the slow response to Diana's death but perceived feeling that the queen did not care (seen especially in her
tight-lipped presence at the funeral).

The Queen offers us plenty to discuss.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.