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The Queen’ proves to be a film fit for royalty

Brian Doxtader | Thursday, April 26, 2007

Princess Diana’s death was a key moment in British history. It shook the foundations of the social hierarchy and threatened the monarchy in a way that few events before or since have rivaled. Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” reconstructs the event in a meaningful and insightful way – the director creates a film that is about a family more than an event, while simultaneously producing what was easily one of the best performances of 2006.

“The Queen” follows the royal family, led by Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), as it copes with the tragic death of Diana. The family clings to tradition, refusing public displays of grief (like waving the flag at half-mast). This leads to declining public opinion and also causes conflict with the new Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Blair believes that the family has to adapt to changing times, which greatly worries Elizabeth and the rest of the royal family.

The biggest reason to see “The Queen” is Mirren’s pitch-perfect performance. Her take on Elizabeth II is at once respectful and complex, with far more nuance and emotional weight than might be expected. Like Forrest Whitaker’s performance in “The Last King of Scotland,” Mirren’s portrayal of the queen brings a historical figure to startling life.

Unlike “The Last King,” however, the rest of the film doesn’t bring the key performance down. Frears constructed a meticulous recreation of the events leading up to -and immediately following – the death of Princess Di, and his steady control and strong sense of composition lends itself to a beautiful and complex picture. Some of the symbolism is overwrought and heavy-handed, and some people may object to the portrayal of Prime Minister Blair, but the overall presentation is quite strong. Recently, films of this sort have tended to fall into two camps: a great performance in an otherwise mediocre picture (“Ray,” “The Last King of Scotland”) and a delicately understated film that supports its performances beautifully (“Capote”). Thankfully, “The Queen” falls into the latter category, and while it’s not a stone-cold classic, it’s much more engaging and entertaining than might be expected.

“The Queen” is ultimately a film about willingness to adapt to changing times. Unfortunately, Miramax hasn’t shown that same willingness. The DVD has fewer features than some discs more than a decade old. The picture is sharp and clear, and the sound (in Dolby Digital 5.1) is acceptable. There is also an audio commentary track by Frears, writer Peter Morgan and British historian Robert Lacey. Informative and interesting, the track is easily the best feature on the disc.

The featurette “The Making of ‘The Queen'” is quite good, but several more features could have easily been added, especially since most of the key people in the film are still alive. It would have been interesting to get the perspective of members of the royal family or Blair, which means that the DVD of “The Queen” squanders its chance to be a comprehensive examination of not only the film but also its context. It’s possible a better edition will someday be produced, but this version should suffice for casual fans.

“The Queen” is an excellent picture, and its critical acclaim is well deserved. It’s a shame that Miramax didn’t put more effort into the DVD, since it’s obvious the picture was meticulously constructed. “The Queen” comes highly recommended, but fans big on extra DVD features might be better suited waiting for a more comprehensive edition.