Sunday, December 17, 2006

Raves for "The Queen" - The Movie and The Person

I gave myself a Christmas present this weekend. I stayed in Burlington on Friday while Woolfoot Kid 1 and Woolfoot Kid 2 were up in the country with Woolfoot Husband. This gave me a clear evening to have dinner out with a colleague, shop a bit (Borders for the Charlie Brown Christmas CD) and go see The Queen.

Everytime I say "brilliant" now I hear those cut-out cartoon characters from the Guinness ads. But, the movie is brilliant. I recently wrote here that, based on the recent John Lahr profile of Helen Mirren in the New Yorker she came off as a lightweight. I'll have to pin that on Lahr and my own faulty judgment. I knew Mirren was great even when I wrote that. We've all been witnesses to her brilliance before - but her performance as Elizabeth II in this move was - well, words fail. Plus royaliste que le roy? If the Queen is not as portrayed by Helen Mirren, she should be.

This brings me to a point I have been thinking of and wanting to write about for a long time. Given my general and somewhat unaccountable anglophilia, I have been a distant and somewhat vague admirer of ER for years. Part of what impressed me so much about this movie is that Stephen Frears (director) and the writer (Stephen Morgan?)and all these wonderful actors (there are no throw-aways) managed to dramatize the dilemma of Queen of England in the modern world. A Queen from the "greatest generation" (like my own grandmother) who is now stuck now in the Oprah generation and having to cope. A Queen alone - in an institution whose venerability is matched perhaps only by the Vatican. Singular and nearly ridiculous. In the public mind, esp. in the yobbish untutored mind, nothing but ridiculous. The movie does not seek to praise her, only to represent her. In doing so, in what feels like such an honest depiction, the truth comes out. She is worthy to be Queen.

Despite my general sense of admiration for her, I have the American distaste for hereditary privilege. (I read the rules once for who gets titles in Englahd and how and why, and could see why our founding fathers wisely tossed the whole invidious mischievous business). And yet, it seems to me that ER has justified herself and her position to the world.

The movie also reminds us that Elizabeth 2 can't go on forever. It got me thinking about how the world will react when she goes. Even the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello and Morrisey and others who have trashed the whole show and HRH may feel a twinge when she goes. For us general admirers, I think there will be a genuine sense of loss. She has been like an oak tree on the horizon for our whole lives (most of us). All that documentary footage we have seen - the girl Elizabeth playing blind man's bluff on the deck of a ship, the young woman pledging her service upon the death of her father; sitting on a throne at coronation; standing outside Windsor Castle as it burned during that annus horribilis; the hat, the handbag, the queenly wave; we have assimilated them all. With this movie, Mirren has fooled me into thinking I actually know her, and it will make the loss more real. For the great mass of British people, I expect millions will be devastated. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal some years ago about how it is a common phenomenon for English people to have ER show up in their dreams. One woman told about a dream she had of finding the Queen in her bathroom washing the dreamer's underwear and scolding her. She is theirs, they are hers. Whatever constitutional limitations there may be on her, the Queen has power.

It was bold to make this movie. All the real life principals are still here - false notes and false moves would be easy to spot. It also seemed to me like a stupid idea for one, frankly. But here I am Mirren and Frears and all involved should take their bows. I bow to them and, with all due respect, to their subject.