In the opening scene of The Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) is sitting for a portrait while watching television coverage of the 1997 election for a new British Prime Minister. The painstakingly hand-painted image and the fleeting televised ones set the scene well for this cinematic study in contrasts.
When newly elected Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and his wife (Helen McCronry) meet the Queen for the first time a few scenes later, the dichotomy continues. As the Blairs are escorted to the appropriate room, a palace official gives them a crash course in proper in-the-presence-of-the-Queen etiquette—including when to bow, how to pronounce ma'am (as in rhymes with "ham"), and the fact that you're never supposed to show your back to the Queen. To see Mrs. Blair butchering the royal curtsey and the pair of them dutifully shuffling backwards out of the room is utterly charming. And their eye-rolling as they exit the palace hints at the growing chasm between the royal regalia and the people's reality—even that of a fellow national leader.
The next scene, several months later, is the crash that takes Princes Diana's life. This is the first of several sensitive moments throughout the film handled with the trademark English subtlety and decorum. We see a brief reenactment of Di and Dodi leaving a Paris hotel hounded by the paparazzi, peppered with real-life footage of Diana's life—from the early girlish years to the final international-icon era. Then just a black screen and silence. And a ringing phone, waking the royals—the first of many interruptions this event will bring into their lives.
The way Diana's death should be commemorated is the source of much disagreement. In the first of many ...1
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