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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sheer Britishness of it all..., 30 Jan. 2007
This review is from: The Queen [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Having lived outside the UK for most of the time that has passed since Princess Diana's death, it's interesting to revisit that moment in history from a foreign context, almost as an outsider. Sitting in the cinema this evening, I was struck by the notion that perhaps only Brits can truly appreciate the significance of the British monarchy, and thereby also fully understand what it is that makes this film such a towering piece of cinema.

As another reviewer has pointed out, Elizabeth II is omnipresent, permeating every facet of British society, and it is in its very attention to detail that "The Queen" triumphs. At first I was taken aback by the striking similarity between the actors and their real-life counterparts: Helen Mirren (who deserves the Oscar for this, perhaps her greatest performance) is frighteningly like the Queen in every respect, right down to pronouncing "Diana" with the stress on the first syllable - something only the Queen does. Michael Sheen's Blair was spot on too: that nervous chuckle, the grin, the walk. James Cromwell is uncannily like the Duke of Edinburgh...

I'd forgotten that these events took place almost immediately after New Labour's accession to power, and thinking of things in these terms sheds new light on the significance of the public reaction. The Tories had finally been kicked out of Westminster, there was a great sense of expectation, of change, and the questioning of the monarchy's relevance seems to go hand in hand with that new-found optimism. The film reminds us that Blair at least set out to be a "moderniser", and the Queen even asks whether he is "planning to modernise us".

Whether or not what happened during that week can be called "modernisation", it certainly shook the very foundations of the institution of the monarchy in Britain. I found it interesting how often people in the audience here laughed at what they saw. Yes, some of it is comical, but it's important to remember that the Royals really are like this; one of the many strengths of the film is that it never descends into parody and caricature. All in all I found watching "The Queen" a truly visceral experience - the likeness of the actors, the real archive footage, the sentiments of the time, the hysteria - and wept through much of it. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it's something to do with our shared humanity, the unifying power of grief, and the sheer Britishness of it all.
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