Director / writer team Stephen Frears and Peter Morgan reunite for a follow-up to their critically-lauded Channel 4 film “The Deal”, which imagined Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s strained relationship before Labour’s 1997 election win.
This sequel sees Michael Sheen returning as the grinning PM just after this landslide victory, in the same week that Princess Diana famously died in a Paris tunnel after being hounded by the press.
This time round, Morgan examines Blair’s uneasy encounters with the Queen (Mirren), as she endured a torrid period of public criticism for failing to bow to the people’s wishes and give Diana the send-off they felt she deserved.
Frears mixes archive footage of Diana (much like George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck earlier this year) with the live action to create a greater sense of authenticity and - although much of the behind-the-scenes dialogue at Balmoral is subject to artistic license, Morgan spent months pouring over insider sources, published diaries and royal biographies to create the most accurate version of events possible.
Mirren, who has already been crowned best actress at virtually every awards ceremony this year, gives a tender humanity to the Queen whose mantra of “duty first, self second” is at odds with the public’s over-emotional response to the death of the “People’s Princess”.
Elsewhere, there are some decent jokes about today’s government, the Queen warns Blair that “all of a sudden people will turn against you one day”, and the PM is earlier seen telling his secretary to put Gordon Brown on hold when he rings for a chat.
And Prince Phillip (Cromwell), who describes the funeral guest list as “a chorus line of soap stars and homosexuals”, and the Queen Mother (Syms) who dismisses the mourners outside Buckingham Palace as “a bunch of hysterics carrying candles” get some tasty lines.
Perhaps the best laugh comes however in the depiction of Prince Charles who is portrayed as a creeping mummy’s boy who allows people talk about William as the next king of England, and is played by an actor who looks like love-rat James Hewitt!
The Queen always seemed like a TV movie that had found its way onto the big screen by accident, and so DVD is probably the perfect format to see it on. However, apart from a lively commentary featuring director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan there is little else to recommend on the extras package.
The “Making of documentary” features various sound bites from cast and crew that were repeated ad nauseam during Mirren’s march to Oscar glory a fortnight ago, and if we hear about the fake bottom the actress had to wear for the part one more time … The package is completed with some uninspiring cast biographies and TV spots.
Staring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Sylvia Syms, Mark Bazeley
Directed by: Stephen Frear
Extras: Audio commentary, Documentary, Cast biography. TV spots