The movie “The Queen,” released in 2006, follows the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in a car crash. While much of the UK is plunged into mourning, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) remains unaffected by the loss. She had not been fond of Diana over the last few years. And since Diana divorced Prince Charles, she was no longer a member of the royal family. Hence, the queen believes that Diana should have a private memorial service at the discretion of her family. She remains at Balmoral in Scotland and considers the matter closed.
Then crowds of people start leaving flowers, teddy bears and other mementos at Buckingham and Kensington Palaces. They call Diana the “people’s princess” and demand that the queen acknowledge her death and grant her a public funeral. Queen Elizabeth ignores these demands, saying that she will not give in to “public hysteria.”
But the new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) sees that the queen’s response is turning people against the monarchy. He strongly encourages Queen Elizabeth to speak on live television about Diana’s significance to the country and to allow and attend a public funeral. He points out that a strong minority of people are advocating doing away with the monarchy altogether.
The queen is stunned by this news. She has always thought she knew what her people expected of her – strength and stoicism in times of trouble. As she tells Tony Blair, she was never one to wear her heart on her sleeve.
She soon realizes, though, that she has no choice. She and her family return to London. The queen looks at the shrines that have sprung up all over the city and, that night, delivers a moving speech about Diana’s good works. She also attends the public funeral.
The people are pleased with her response, and approval ratings of the monarchy go up almost instantly. Queen Elizabeth, however, is troubled. She feels humiliated by being forced to share her emotions – emotions she doesn’t even feel – with the world. She doesn’t understand the outpouring of grief at Princess Diana’s death. Perhaps her husband, Prince Phillip (James Cromwell), sums it up best. “Diana is more annoying dead than she was alive.”
“The Queen” is a clever movie, filled with sharp but subtle wit and just the right touch of poignancy. Helen Mirren nails the role of Queen Elizabeth, a woman watching the world she always thought she knew spin out of control.
Another phenomenon “The Queen” explores is the cult of celebrity. In the movie, the crowds shown mourning the death of Diana are people who have never met the princess, who have never seen her at all except on television. The film shows people weeping over and making shrines for someone with whom they have no personal relationship.
Alex Proud, in an article written for The Telegraph, described the public expressions of grief over Diana’s death as “recreational grieving.” Perhaps this opinion is too harsh. The way the media portrays celebrities establishes a false intimacy. Although the relationship is one-sided, people often feel that they know the person who has died, and the impact can be like losing a friend or family member.
If you are interested in the royal family or in the death of Princess Diana, you won’t want to miss “The Queen.” It is also a good film to watch if you want a movie that makes you stop and think about the different forms grief can take.