While the world of film loves to make royal biopics, nearly all of them are historic, with even something like The King’s Speech causing some to wonder whether its subject matter is too close to the present to make it suitable for a movie (seriously, some people complained about that). It’s very unusual therefore for a mainstream royal biopic to take on the current royal family, especially concerning events that are in the recent past. The Queen does though and does it very well, winning Helen Mirren an Oscar in the process. Now the film is making its first appearance on Blu-ray, just in time for the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee.
Following the death of Princess Diana, the Queen (Mirren) and royal family attempt to deal with what they believe should be a private matter between themselves and the Spencer family. However as attacks from the media and public begin to grow, and with new PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) advising her, the Monarch slowly comes to realise that her apparent inaction is becoming a threat to her position.
When it was first announced that Stephen Frears was making a movie about the relationship between Tony Blair and the Queen in the aftermath of the death of the Diana, the general assumption was that it would be a scathing attack on the Monarchy. It’s a surprise and a pleasure then that rather than trying to score either republican or monarchist points, The Queen is simply about a very human woman facing one of the most difficult moments of her life.
While there is of course some conjecture needed in a film about what the royal family got up while secreted away at Balmoral during the week after Diana’s death, the movie does a great job of making everything seem incredibly plausible. The Queen is portrayed as an ageing woman from a different era, for whom the touchy feely modern world is a little bewildering. However being the monarch, her seeming inaction, which would have not only been accepted but expected a few decades before, is seen as cold and unfeeling in the modern word.
Things like the papers calling for the flag at Buckingham Palace to fly at half-mast are simply inexplicable to her. For 450 years the flag above royal palaces had been a symbol of both the presence of the monarch and its enduring nature. While to many in the press and public who didn’t know about or understand this tradition, it seemed like rude obstinacy not to have a flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace, for the royals themselves it was initially unthinkable. As the Queen Mother points out in the film, it wasn’t flown at half-mast for the Queen’s father, George VI, after his death, but now they were expected to do so for someone who wasn’t technically even a member of their family any more.
The Queen probably wouldn’t work as well if it weren’t for Helen Mirren, who is simply remarkable in the title role. However the acting is great across the board, with the performers embodying the roles and being totally believable, even though hardly anybody looks like the person they’re playing.
It certainly looks pretty good on Blu-ray. Although not a colourful, flashy HD release, it does a good job bringing to film up to 1080p, retaining the slight softness of traditional film but bringing a far greater clarity of colour contrast than the previous DVD release. It’s a great way to watch the film, showing off the wonderful buildings and the incredible Scottish heaths to movie is set amongst.
The only downside of this release is the relative lack of special features. There’s a single featurette, which is admittedly very interesting, with discussion of the controversial nature of what the filmmakers were trying to do, but it’s not really enough in itself. With only a gallery a trailer alongside it, along with a decent but not earth-shattering audio commentary, it’s great to see the film on Blu-ray, but not a particularly Diamond edition.
Overall Verdict: The idea of a film about our reigning monarch sounds like it should be deathly dull, but thanks to a thoughtful script and some superb performances, The Queen is a triumph and long may it reign.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac